North Korea has reportedly built a new political prison camp in North Pyongan Province’s Pihyon County.

It is the third new political prison camp constructed in recent months. North Korea is apparently continuing to build new facilities as existing facilities fill up amid intensified efforts to crackdown on rule breakers. 

US-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) had previously announced the existence of a facility presumed to be a labor camp in Pihyon County.

However, Daily NK has confirmed that the facility in question is not a labor camp, but a political prison camp. Given that the facility appears to have been there for several years, it appears North Korean authorities have recently changed how it is being used and the organization that manages it. 

In a telephone conversation with Daily NK on Monday, a source in North Korea said the facility in Pihyon County is a political prison camp operated by the Ministry of Social Security, not a labor camp. He said that in North Korea the camp is called “Pihyon Political Prison Camp” or “Camp 27.”

The source said he understands that inmates of Camp 27 will likely suffer labor exploitation at the nearby Pihyon Brick Factory. The source further stated that the factory was originally run by a correctional labor brigade, but that management was transferred from the bureau of corrections to the bureau running the Ministry of Social Security’s political prison camps.

The Ministry of State Security and Ministry of Social Security operate separate systems of political prison camps.

If you are sent to a camp run by the Ministry of State Security, you are likely never getting out. At camps run by the Ministry of Social Security, however, model prisoners at least have the possibility of being released.

HRNK discovered what it believes is a newly-established prison camp. / Image: Pulled from the report entitled: “North Korea’s Potential Long-Term Prison-Labor Facility at Sŏnhwa-dong”

Given the increasing number of camps run by the Ministry of Social Security, it appears a vastly growing number of people are being arrested for failing to abide by the North Korean government’s rules. 

It is also worth noting that the new facility is in North Pyongan Province, where no political prison camp existed before. This is considered extraordinary as it runs counter to the “dying instructions” of late North Korean leader Kim Il Sung, who ordered that no political prison camps be built in the industrial regions of North Pyongan Province and Chagang Province.

However, Kim Jong Un’s government has reportedly decided that placing the growing number of political prisoners in existing facilities located in other provinces is causing many problems.

The source explained that the Ministry of State Security has “unavoidably” begun establishing political prison camps in North Pyongan Province to avoid putting an excessive concentration of prisoners in a handful of specific places.

North Korea built new political prison camps run by the Ministry of Social Security in Sungho-ri and Pyongsan County, North Hwanghae Province, last year and early this year.

The facilities can accommodate more than 20,000 inmates. However, it appears the country’s holding capacity is failing to keep up with the skyrocketing number of prisoners. Many of the prisoners at the Sungho-ri and Pyongsan County camps are there for infractions of COVID-19 quarantine protocols and violations of North Korea’s law against “reactionary” thought and culture. Likewise, the Pihyon County camp largely holds people picked up for “non-socialist” activities.

“Just because the camp is in North Pyongan Province doesn’t mean the prisoners are all from there,” said the source. “They were handed over after the completion of Ministry of State Security investigations and preliminary examinations by the unified command on non-socialist and anti-socialist behavior.”

North Korea organized the “unified command on non-socialist and anti-socialist behavior” when it enacted the law to eradicate “reactionary” thought and culture. Most of the people caught by this organization have apparently been imprisoned.

Moreover, Camp 27 reportedly holds fewer prisoners compared to camps in other regions. Satellite photos revealed by HRNK also indicate the camp is relatively small.

“The prison began with 520 male and female prisoners,” said the source. “Individual men and women, children, and entire families have been imprisoned there after being caught nationwide.”

North Korean political prison camps can hold anywhere from 19,000 to 56,000 prisoners. Camp 27, however, is considerably smaller in comparison and it appears unlikely that the facility can handle additional prisoners due to its small size.

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

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Mun Dong Hui is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about his articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.