Inside The Terrifying World Of North Korea's Secret Gulag

north korea

Photo: Flickr

Officially, North Korea denies it operates a secret work camp system, where those suspected of “wrong thought” are half-starved and worked to near death, usually for their entire lives.However, reports have been trickling out for years that suggest this is a lie.

Last month a fascinating account of the camps was documented in the book, “Escape From Camp 14”. Shin In Geun, the man behind that account, escaped the country, making an arduous journey to a South Korean embassy where he can apply for citizenship.

However, Shin wasn’t alone.┬áThe Committee for Human Rights in North Korea has compiled the accounts of 60 escapees, of which there were 23,000 in South Korea by 2011.

An estimated 150,000 to 200,000 are thought to be kept in political prisons, known as Kwan-li-so.

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These prisons mostly exist in the north and north central mountains of North Korea. The country denies their existence.

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There are often children in the camps. Some, like Shin In Geun, were born in the camp.

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Torture is routine. Those who attempt to escape are executed, usually by firing squad. Other prisoners are made to watch.

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400,000 people are thought to have died in the camps.

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While most people in these camps face trial, many do not.

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Those inside these camps have usually committed some kind of non-political crime. This definition is stretched, however. One man interviewed was arrested for singing a South Korean song.

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Like political prisoners, those in these camps are poorly treated

From the reports:

Former Prisoner # 37 was given boiled corn husks, corn powder gruel and some soybeans in a dirty plastic bowl. Guards cut the handle of spoons so that prisoners could not use them to commit suicide. Prisoners secretly drank unsanitary water from the toilet when they were not provided with drinking water.

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The final system of prisons deals with North Korean citizens caught attempting to flee into China. They are known as ku-ryu-jang.

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Many North Koreans cross over the border into the Manchurian region of China

Some do it to escape economic or political hardship, but there is also a thriving, semi-condoned system of black market trade between the regions.

Some North Korean women are lured or caught by traffickers and forced into prostitution or sold as brides -- a big prize in China due to the country's gender imbalance.

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If caught, women suffer especially harshly.

From the report:

In recent years, young women have comprised substantial portion of repatriated persons. Their testimonies report sexual humiliation, trafficking and violence, and the unconscionable abuse of racially motivated forced abortion and infanticide.

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Prisoners are essential to keeping the system alive

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