North Korea is one of the world’s worst violators of human rights. Those who do or say anything that is unsanctioned are routinely tortured, killed or sent to harsh labor camps. This is especially true of anyone accused of being a Christian — and their whole families, who are also sent to the camps.
Now there’s new evidence that these prison camps — which can be described only as nightmarish — are being expanded. With the help of the human rights group Amnesty International, CBN News got a rare glimpse inside one of the world’s most secret prison camps.
Yodok Prison Camp
Officials call it Kwanliso or Re-education Center No. 15. But those tortured and abused there know it as Yodok. Yodok is thought to hold an estimated 50,000 North Koreans. Five other camps each hold as many or more. “We understand that there are at least six political prisoner camps, and these are vast areas,” Amnesty informed CBN News. “We think there is a total population around 200,000 people in these six camps.”
“The notion that hundreds of thousands of people can exist with almost no rights in some of the worst circumstances that we’ve documented in the last 50 years is simply intolerable,” Sam Zarifi, a human rights advocate with Amnesty International, told CBN News.
“The idea that a country can treat its own citizens this poorly on such a systematic level is simply just unacceptable” said Zarifi. Yodok is located some 70 miles from the North Korean capital Pyongyang.
“The outside world certainly doesn’t know what’s going on and very little from the inside comes out,” Zarifi said. “The very little that has come out paints a very disturbing picture.” However, new satellite images obtained by Amnesty International show that Yodok is growing.
Amnesty compared the latest pictures with satellite imagery taken 10 years ago. There are more prisoner housing facilities, more guard units and additional forced labor areas. The North Korean regime has repeatedly denied the existence of Yodok.
“The fact that we would have to rely on satellite imagery just to dispel the government’s assertion that these camps don’t exist is testament really to the scale of the human travesty that clearly is going on inside,” said Scott Edwards, director of the science and human rights program at Amnesty International.
And Amnesty says what is going on inside Yodok is nothing short of hellish. “These are places where based on what we understand 2 out of 5 prisoners die often due to malnutrition,” said Zarifi. “Food is very scarce, they work at least 10 hours a day, seven days a week.”
Tales of Torture, Starvation
Reports from inside Yodok are hard to come by. In 2004, a Japanese television station aired what it claimed was footage from inside the camp. The very few who’ve managed to escape testify to stories of torture, starvation and routine executions.
“On July 22, 1999, I was arrested on suspicion of spying by the national security agency,” said Jeong Kyoung-il,one of the few Yodok prisoners who is known to have been released. While he was in the Yodok labor camp, Jeong says the prison guards performed a particular form of torture on him called the Pigeon Torture. In essence, the prisoner is hanged from the wall with his hands tied behind his back, and left hanging in this position for several days. “This happened repeatedly,’ said Jeong. “It’s like you are hanging upside down. Your muscles tense up and your chest sticks out like a bird. I thought I was going to die.”
Other news agencies report that inhumane experiments are conducted on all people including newborn infants. Women are not allowed to scream while giving birth to babies. If they do, guards will beat the pregnant woman until she stops screaming. When the baby is born, if it starts crying the guards usually smother it to death or leave the baby face down on the ground to die. If the baby happens to survive it must endure the harsh conditions the mother must endure. An estimated 1,000- 2,000 prisoners die annually from hunger, beatings, and executions.
Jung Sung-san, a North Korean film director who escaped to South Korea, has spent the past few years highlighting the plight of his countrymen. Jung escaped from North Korea in 1995. He also did time in a labor camp. “The world has to realize that there is a country today that tortures its people, kills its people,” he said. “Something has to be done to put an end to this regime.”
That may not happen anytime soon. North Korea’s dictator has reportedly tapped his 27-year-old son to take over next year. And reports are that human rights conditions are only getting worse as the regime makes the leadership transition.
Pray for North Korea:
-Pray that God will intervene on behalf of the North Korean people.
-Pray that the people of North Korea would be prepared for the huge change that sudden freedom would present.
-Pray that the totalitarian regime would be brought down.
-Pray that the remaining Christians in North Korea would be revived and comforted, even under such severe persecution, especially those held in the camps for their faith.
-Pray that God would release North Korea into freedom and democracy!