In early October, the North Korean government granted amnesty to a number of inmates who had served long sentences. This was done with no apparent reason, sources told Daily NK on Nov. 27. 

“The government suddenly issued an amnesty decree and alleged it was an act of generosity of our leader Kim Jong Un,” a source from North Hamgyong Province told Daily NK. “Because the pardons were mostly granted to long-term prisoners – serious offenders – many people are confused.”

According to the source, the pardon also applied to a man in his 30s who was sentenced to 15 years after he had injured a man in a gang fight in Chongjin. He was reportedly released after serving “only” six years.

Also among the released prisoners were “juveniles, who had received long sentences after committing serious crimes, and had already been incarcerated for more than five years,” the source reported.

FEW PARDONS GRANTED IN THE PAST

The North Korean state has traditionally pardoned a very small amount of prisoners on special occasions such as the birthdays of Kim Il Sung (Apr. 15) or Kim Jong Il (Feb. 16).

Other special events include the Founding Day of the Workers’ Party of Korea (Oct. 10), the Day of the Foundation of the Republic (Sept. 9) as well as celebrations of commemorative days around anniversaries.

In 2015, Daily NK covered several instances in which the North Korean government had issued amnesty decrees – among them North Korea’s Independence Day on Aug. 15 and as well as a two-day release period from Oct. 8 to Oct. 9.

Also in 2015, the North Korean state issued further pardons as part of the commemoration festivities for their party’s founding 70th anniversary.

Back then, however, only very few detainees received a reduction of their sentences or were actually released from prison. Sources told Daily NK that this had angered and dissatisfied many of the inmates’ families.

At the time, the pardons were mostly granted to short-term prisoners with sentences of less than three years, small-time criminals, or malnourished and ill prisoners, whose conditions had made them a burden for the state anyway. Thus, many North Korean citizens didn’t really consider the pardons the act of “the leader’s generosity” which they were portrayed as. 

AMNESTY’S USE AS A PROPAGANDA TOOL

Such instances of amnesty are usually – and inevitably – accompanied by the propagandistic image of the “North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s love and generosity” as well as by ideological indoctrination.

Sources reported that prisoners on the receiving end of the pardons had to attend educational courses and learn about “their leader’s greatness” for two months before they were released.

“The main purpose of this pardon is to instill a sense of the great generosity of Kim Jong Un in the former prisoners,” a source explained. “They were told during those educational sessions that they shouldn’t forget their past lives, work hard, and live decent lives once they’re back in the real world.”

“They were also told that it’s not too late for them to obey and even get into the party,” the source continued, “because they ‘will be born again through the generosity of the Great Leader.’”

According to another Daily NK source, it’s the local law enforcement offices who are educating and watching the released prisoners, apparently “to help them get used to life outside of jail without re-offending.” He added: “They will also be assigned to jobs in the workforce.” 

*Translated by Violet Kim and edited by Laura Geigenberger

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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Kim Yoo Jin is one of Daily NK's freelance journalists. Please direct any questions about his articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.