A continual number of deaths within North Korea’s kyohwaso [reeducation camps, which function as prisons] from torture and beatings has prompted leader Kim Jong Un to order penalization of safety officials who cause such deaths. The move is said to reflect the regime’s concerns about mounting pressure from the outside world on its human rights track record, but the mandate excludes those held for political crimes. 

“An order was recently issued under the name of the supreme leader to the Ministry of People’s Safety to hand down harsh punishments to officials involved in deaths within the camps,” a source from North Hamgyong Province told Daily NK on Monday. “There is also a shift in mood within the prison, and Ministry of People’s Safety personnel [North Korea’s version of a police force] mostly agree they should try not to beat those in for financial crimes.” 

This news was corroborated by a source in South Pyongan Province. 

“Detailed instructions have been handed down, ordering officials not to torture those in for financial crimes, violence, and even narcotics,” the source added. “However, this is not the case for those in because of political offenses such as watching South Korean TV dramas and other ‘non-socialist’ acts, so beatings and violence against them continue.” 

In the Kim Jong Il era, there had also been orders against extreme torture on inmates that may lead to deaths. Also, in 2004 and 2005, the North revised its code of criminal procedure to have interrogations, arrests, detainment, and penalization adhere more strictly to existing laws, but they were largely ignored when it came to implementation within the prison system, according to the source. 

Despite these changes, the number of deaths had not seen much change, as most agents would resort to paying bribes to hospital officials and getting documents such as medical certificates forged. 

“They would beat someone to death with a stick and then claim they didn’t do much but the prisoner suddenly had a seizure,” he said. 

However, the lack of change over the years in the death toll has pulled the brakes on such shams, leading to the emergence of words such as ‘human rights’ among those in the field, according to the source, who speculated that pressure from the international community is starting to have an impact. 

In stark contrast to this overall movement, the Kim regime continues to manage political  prisoners with a heavy hand, as they are seen as playing no role in helping propping up the leadership. 

“Agents in charge of these political prisoners completely ignore them even if flesh on their buttocks is rotting away,” the source said. “Beatings and torture are a given, and no one cares if they die.” Many of these political prisoners face extremely unhygienic conditions within the camps, leaving them vulnerable to infectious diseases, and the lack of food supplied to them means they will eat whatever they can get their hands on. 

This contributes to their overall demise in health, and they end up with “all kinds of diseases before they die,” he concluded. (Daily NK)