North Korea plans to hand out special pardons in the first part of this year. North Korean authorities will apparently use the pardon to promote North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s “leadership of love for the people.”

According to a high-ranking Daily NK source in North Korea on Friday, North Korean authorities have ordered that special pardons be given to many prisoners at the Ministry of Social Security’s political prisons and labor camps to mark the 80th birthday of late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il on Feb. 16.

Political prisons and labor camps carried out a first round of selections between early October and mid-December. Corrections guidance officers assigned to each prison and camp have been temporarily seconded to the Screenings Section of the Ministry of Social Security’s Corrections Bureau in Pyongyang to make final selections for pardons and sentence reductions.

In fact, the Ministry of Social Security’s first official duty of the new year reportedly will be to inform correctional facilities of the final selections on Jan. 3.

Considering existing practice, however, inmates will not learn of their pardons or sentence reductions until a week before.

Usually, when the authorities announce a planned special pardon, powerful classes and individuals in the know often bribe Ministry of Social Security cadres to pardon family members and friends.

However, Jang Jong Nam — the head of the Ministry of Social Security named in July — has warned that corruption in the amnesty process would be sternly punished, and the entire amnesty process has since been conducted in utmost secrecy.

Because of this, few people knew of the special pardon order, despite the Ministry of Social Security having spent over two months selecting candidates.

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Meanwhile, while it remains unknown just how many people will receive pardons, the source says the amnesty will be fairly wide-reaching because this year marks both the 110th birthday of national founder Kim Il Sung and the 80th birthday of Kim Jong Il.

According to the source, political prisons have been ordered to transfer model prisoners to facilities with better conditions or release 15 family members per prison.

At labor camps, the pardon will apparently reduce sentences by anywhere from six months to six years.

However, the amnesty did not include prisoners sentenced to maximum sentences of just six months of labor, as well as those in detention awaiting a trial following their preliminary hearing. 

Also excluded from the special amnesty were prisoners at political prisons run by the Ministry of State Security, where inmates never receive pardons or sentence reductions.

Meanwhile, with the number of inmates set to fall dramatically with the amnesty, the Ministry of State Security plans to launch a sweeping crackdown to refill its forced labor camps.

Because political prisons and labor camps make money putting inmates to work on farms, pastures, and handicraft factories, Ministry of Social Security agents working as prison guards are unhappy with the pardons.

The source said the Ministry of Social Security has recently been launching more crackdowns, greatly increasing the number of prisoners. He said this was the ministry’s way to replace the prisoners it will pardon with the amnesty.

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