Marginal improvement at ‘kyohwaso’ amid international pressure

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 security 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 Security 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 Security 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

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

*The content of this article was transmitted to the North Korean people via Unification Media Group.

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