Eleven prisoners at the Chongori Prison in North Hamgyong Province have reportedly died after suffering from respiratory issues, Daily NK has learned. 

“The prisoners had been suffering from respiratory pains from earlier this month,” a North Hamgyong Province source told Daily NK on Mar. 19. 

Several of the inmates also suffered from high fevers, the source added. 

Chongori Prison is infamous for imprisoning a great number of North Koreans who were repatriated from China. The prison is notorious for its poor living and working environments, along with severe human rights violations. It is not unusual for inmates to die from malnutrition, physical abuse or disease. 

Daily NK sources in North Hamgyong Province reported, however, it is rare to hear about the death of such a large number of inmates who had been suffering from similar symptoms. 

Chongori prison authorities reportedly wrote off the deaths as due to “weak immune systems.” 

Prison authorities disinfected the entire prison and even disinfected the corpses for a period of 10 hours, sources said. 

All inmates at the prison were tested for fevers and given health checkups, while prison guards were ordered to ensure news of the deaths did not leak across the prison walls.  

Since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, North Korean authorities have banned family members from visiting their kin in the country’s prisons. 

Daily NK was unable to confirm conclusively whether the inmates died from COVID-19 infections. 

“Everyone who found out about the deaths is wondering if the coronavirus was the culprit,” one source in the province said. “It’s not usual for the prison to disinfect inmate cells. Also, it’s suspicious that the authorities have ordered everyone to keep quiet about the deaths.”

*Translated by Violet Kim

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Seulkee Jang is one of Daily NK's full-time reporters and covers North Korean economic and diplomatic issues, including workers dispatched abroad. Jang has a M.A. in Sociology from University of North Korean Studies and a B.A. in Sociology from Yonsei University. She can be reached at skjang(at)uni-media.net.