Defectors Facing Amnesty Payment Calls

An impending amnesty for North Korean prisoners, one of the events commemorating 2012, is being used as an opportunity to extract money from detainees, Daily NK has learned. The situation came to light after persons with family in South Korea were made to request funds by phone.

One female defector known only as Kim revealed her story to Daily NK yesterday, saying that on the 12th she received a phone call from somewhere in China and was shocked to hear the voice of her younger sister on the other end. Her sister, who is serving a sentence of one year’s labor re-education at a prison in Kaecheon, South Pyongan Province after being found guilty of contacting South Korea last September, requested money.

“I came out to the border area with one of the guards; we are using a Chinese cell phone,” Kim’s sister reportedly explained. “I’m calling because they asked me to get money for the expansion of the prison.”

Kim, aware that if she complied with the demand it could earn her sister’s early release, subsequently arranged for the transfer of approximately $1800 to North Korea via a China-based broker.

Kim’s sister explained that the prison in Kaecheon, previously an institution for women, is being expanded to accommodate men as well. Prisoners have apparently been informed that those able to obtain funds for the expansion work will be eligible for release in the amnesty, which is taking place in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of national founder Kim Il Sung on April 15th.

Park Soo Gil, another defector who has been living in South Korea for more than three years, said that a similar thing happened to her in January. However, Park had no information on which prison her family was interned in, or when the release would occur if the money were to be sent, so was unable to comply.

According to a number of defectors with experience of the North Korean ‘labor re-education system,’ it is not uncommon for Party cadres and detention facility managers to demand payments in exchange for the possibility of release in one of the country’s semi-regular amnesties. Although the authorities call such amnesties a display of the leader’s “beneficent nature,” defectors say release is actually very hard for those with no access to money or other sources of power.

People are reportedly well aware of this, and while some are expecting a lot from the upcoming amnesty given that 2012 is the year of Kim Il Sung’s 100th and Kim Jong Il’s 70th birthdays, those without money have no sense of expectation at all.