Family mine workers in South Hamgyong Province sent to political prison camp

Vehicles transport coal and vehicles from Musan Mine. Image: Daily NK

Members of a family in South Hamgyong Province working at the Komdok Mining Complex were arrested and sent to a political prison camp in mid-November, sources inside North Korea reported Sunday.

“The daughter, who worked at the mine as a signaler, and her younger brother, who worked as an artist, and their elderly parents were sleeping at home when agents broke down the door and took them to a political prison camp,” said the source based in South Hamgyong Province.

Signalers convey instructions to operators managing wagons transporting coal and personnel as they enter and leave the mine as well as engineers managing mine blasts, while artists produce propaganda pieces for use in the mine.

The family was originally from Pyongyang but had been expelled to the mine seven years ago. They had been under intense surveillance by security authorities. The daughter divorced her husband when her family was expelled, and her younger brother is unmarried, a separate source in South Hamgyong Province reported.

According to security authorities spoken to by this source, two Ministry of State Security (MSS) agents, two mine security officials, and two others tasked with moving the family’s belongings barged into the family’s house at 2am on November 15.

The security officials told the family to get dressed to go outside, and to take off their Kim Il Sung/Kim Jong Il badges. They had to kneel down in a line as their arrest warrant was read to them.

“The daughter put on clothes, took off her badge and said she would go to the master bedroom,” the source said. “She told the security officials that she planned to bring three works of calligraphy that stated ‘Under the Care of the General,’ ‘Following the General 10,000-ri’ and ‘Down the Main Road of Loyalty.’ The officials stopped her from taking them and the works were damaged in the struggle that ensued.”

Taken aback by her actions, the officials beat the woman and reportedly yelled, “Why has your family come to this? It’s because of you that your whole family has to leave!”

Ordinarily, families taken to political prisoner camps are allowed to bring their household goods, but in this case the officials only permitted the family to bring a small number of possessions.

“The family was taken to the camp for reasons unknown even to the local security authorities,” an additional source in South Hamgyong Province said.

“The daughter continued to express discontent about being expelled from Pyongyang, and even criticized the government, which may explain why the family had to leave.”

The truck that was transporting the family, however, had engine trouble and underwent repairs for the rest of the night. The family finally departed for the camp at around 8am, she said, and “their neighbors witnessed the family being taken away and rumors soon spread like wildfire.”

“The two men tasked with moving the family’s belongings took the remaining food and other items that could be sold once the truck left,” she continued, lamenting that “their theft was not reported because the victims were heading to a political prisoner camp.”

The Komdok Mining Cooperative Enterprise manages a major mining operation with three mills, several independent mines (Roeun, Nappung, Kildong and Tapgol) and a number of affiliated sites. The mine processes 14.2 million tons of raw ore per year, including zinc, and employs around 7,000 to 10,000 workers and other employees.

There are many cases in which families expelled from Pyongyang or Party officials who have been purged end up living near the mine. In the past, relatives and even friends of former Workers’ Party of Korea Secretary and defector Hwang Jang Hyop and Kim Jong Un’s uncle Jang Song Thaek have been expelled to the mine.

Kim Yoo Jin is one of Daily NK's freelance journalists. Please direct any questions about his articles to