North Korea handed down a mass amnesty decree for inmates in the country’s myriad of prisons and detention facilities on Apr. 15 – Kim Il Sung’s birthday, Daily NK has learned. 

Amnesty was granted to inmates who had displayed “model behavior” during their time in prison, Daily NK sources in the country said. 

Sources told Daily NK that prisons throughout the country had, in fact, been preparing for the mass amnesty since early April. Even inmates at local prisons affiliated with municipal and county-level police offices were among those pardoned, sources said. 

“Dozens of inmates in the city of Hoeryong in North Hamgyong Province were released early, along with a lot of inmates in Musan County,” one source in the country told Daily NK. 

“Prison guards told [the outgoing inmates] they should work hard once out of prison to pay back” North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s generosity, he added. 

Dozens of prisoners were even released from the infamous Kaechon prison camp, according to sources based in North Pyongan Province. 

“The Kaechon prison camp inmates who were released had been sentenced to two to three years, but [thanks to the pardon] they were released after about a year,” one source in the province said. 

“When [the authorities] decided on who to pardon, they considered how good you were at work, not how many years you’d been serving time,” he added. 

A SURPRISE MOVE

The mass amnesty came as a surprise to the families of inmates given that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had failed to order a mass pardon on Kim Jong Il’s birthday in February. 

The country’s rubber-stamp parliament, the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA), typically decides who receives pardons. Occasionally, Kim Jong Un has been known to grant pardons without public fanfare. 

Kim granted mass pardons on the 100th anniversary of his grandfather’s birthday in 2012, on the 70th founding anniversary of the country’s communist party in 2015, and on the anniversary of the country’s founding in 2018.

Some Daily NK sources reported that Kim issued pardons to some individuals in October of last year. 

Daily NK sources suggested that this latest round of pardons is likely to convince many North Koreans that the regime will grant mass amnesty every five or ten years. 

Sources that Daily NK spoke to speculated that while the pardons are aimed at solidifying loyalty toward the regime, the increasing need for pardons appears to suggest that North Korean society is facing an increasing crime rate.

*Translated by Violet Kim

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

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Kang Mi Jin
Kang Mi Jin is a North Korean defector turned journalist who fled North Korea in 2009. She has a degree in economics and writes largely on marketization and economy-related issues for Daily NK. Questions about her articles can be directed to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.