North Korean authorities are planning to carry out a special pardon of prisoners in October and the list of pardonees may include those who have attempted to defect the country, Daily NK has learned. 

The pardon appears to be linked to the 75th anniversary of the founding of North Korea’s communist party on Oct. 10.

“On the morning of July 23, the department managing prison camps throughout the country ordered camps to submit lists of potential pardonees by Aug. 10,” a source in North Korea told Daily NK on Sunday. “The order did not provide a specific date for the pardons, but it is highly probable they will be granted in early October.” 

Notably, there is no upper limit on the number of people who can be pardoned in each prison camp this year, according to the source, who further speculated that this could mean that “a large number of people may be released.” 

In 2015, North Korea released several thousand prisoners on the 70th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea.

According to the source, there are rumors that many of the pardonees will just be those who committed “simple economic crimes,” which suggests that mainly those imprisoned for stealing valuables or committing fraud will be released. 

The source said that even those who have been accused of crossing the border or who conducted smuggling activities may be included on the pardon list. This would be a rare move by the authorities given that North Korea has recently taken various steps to promote widespread animosity towards defectors following controversy over leaflets sent over the inter-Korean border by defector-activists and the “re-defection” of a North Korean allegedly infected with COVID-19. 

“The idea that even people who attempted to defect may be eligible for pardon is aimed at promoting the generosity of the Supreme Leader [Kim Jong Un], as well as showing off the magnanimity and superiority of the Socialist Constitution, which is guided by the Party,” the source told Daily NK. 

According to the source, smugglers and defectors will be eligible for a pardon if they have completed 70% of the time on their sentence. They must also go through a set of stringent procedures, such as receiving a recommendation from a police officer assigned to them, to be included in the pardon. 

Prisoners who have already had their sentence reduced are also ineligible, the source said. He explained that one of the “teachings [former North Korean leader] Kim Il Sung left behind” was that prisoners who have already had their sentences reduced must serve out the rest of their time. 

Those in prison camps for serious crimes such as murder, robbery or human trafficking have also been excluded from the pardon, the source said. 

Those prisoners who actually receive pardons will be immediately escorted to their original places of residence by local police officials because of the restrictions on travel in the country due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The order directed prison camps to take “this opportunity” to exile prisoners originally from Pyongyang to other areas of the country. This means that prison camps that have prisoners from Pyongyang who have been pardoned must select places of exile for these pardonees and report their selections to the central government.  

This directive may be aimed at recent efforts to expel people from Pyongyang because of worsening economic conditions in the capital city.

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Seulkee Jang is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to