Prisoners protesting cruel treatment exempted from upcoming mass amnesty

Two military factory laborers held in a correctional labor camp (kyohwaso) in Chagang Province have received severe punishment, including 10 days in solitary confinement, after holding a hunger strike in response to cruel treatment during their imprisonment. The two prisoners were accused of committing acts that “went against and actively opposed the Republic’s Constitution” and have been excluded from an amnesty list issued for August.

“In early July, two prisoners at the Songgan Correctional Labor Camp in Songgan County, Chagang Province, held a three-day hunger strike to protest the cruel treatment they have received,” said a source in Chagang Province.

The two prisoners were arrested by security officials in March 2015 after being caught siphoning off aluminum sheets and other military production materials from a military factory in Chagang. They were then sent to a preliminary hearing at the local police station.

The two were sentenced to five years in a correctional labor camp for the crime of damaging military production, and in September 2015 were sent to the Number 6 Correctional Labor Camp, which was established for the punishment of crimes related to military projects.  

The two prisoners, however, were subjected to verbal abuse and violence over a number of years by the chief guard (a Mr. Choe, in his 30s). The two began a hunger strike, but it ultimately led to them being thrown into solitary confinement and being exempted from the amnesty.

“The two prisoners told Mr. Choe’s boss, who heads the 1st Department of the prison camp, and the camp’s director about the human rights abuses they and other prisoners were suffering,” said the source. “They asked the labor camp officials for help in dealing with the problem. However, they were treated even more brutally by Mr. Choe after he heard about their reports.”

Intent on revenge, Mr. Choe also ordered his underlings to make life difficult for the two prisoners by giving them the hardest work in the camp.

“The two prisoners thought that they would rather die than continue to live in those conditions and held a hunger strike for three days,” said a separate source in Chagang Province with knowledge of the strike.

“The camp authorities reacted by accusing the two of ‘actions that go against and actively oppose the Republic’s Constitution,’ while putting them in solitary confinement and force feeding them through a hose.”  

He added, “The two prisoners were removed from the list of those to be granted amnesty in August because they had conducted a hunger strike instead of just serving their time.”

On July 16, North Korea’s Rodong Sinmun reported that the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of the DPRK (abbreviation of North Korea’s formal name) had granted “an amnesty to those who had been convicted of crimes against the country and people, on the occasion of the 70th founding anniversary of the DPRK,” and that “the amnesty will take effect from August 1.”

Daily NK previously reported that North Korea will reduce the sentences of all regular prisoners by three years through the amnesty. Political prisoners and those who have committed crimes against the state will not be eligible.

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Ha Yoon Ah is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.