A prison officer at a detention facility in Yanggang Province recently caused the death of a female inmate in her twenties, Daily NK has learned.

A source in Yanggang Province told Daily NK on Apr. 27 that the woman died in a provincial detention cell located in Hyetan, a neighborhood in the Sino-North Korean border city of Hyesan. The incident occurred after a prison officer hit the young woman over her head with the butt of his rifle because she allegedly “did not follow the detention center’s rules.” 

Detention facilities in Yanggang Province are referred to as “detention cells for illegal border crossers” because most of the people imprisoned in the facilities are arrested while trying to cross the nearby Yalu River. The woman who died in this incident was no different: she had attempted to defect from North Korea in March of last year. 

Because the woman was originally from Kaechon in South Pyongan Province, she should have been transferred to the local Ministry of Social Security office in her place of residence. However, neither the Yanggang Province detention center nor the South Pyongyan Province Ministry of State Security office took any action to transfer her to a facility within her hometown’s jurisdiction. Because of this, the woman stayed in the Yanggang Province facility for over a year.

Hyesan killed
A view of Hyesan, Yanggang Province, from the Chinese side of the border. / Image: Daily NK

While detained in Yanggang Province, the woman reportedly received only twenty to thirty kernels of boiled corn for each meal. This paltry amount of food would be insufficient to sustain even a healthy male for more than a month, according to the source. 

When the officer struck the malnourished woman with the butt of his rifle, she was unable to withstand her injuries and ultimately died. However, the source claims that the prison officers only noticed that she was missing the following morning while performing roll call. After finding her dead body, they put her in a straw bag and buried her in the hills.

“The prisoners kept in Yanggang Province detention centers are considered ‘traitors’ who betrayed the nation, so they are treated inhumanely regardless of their gender,” the source explained. “Because of this, unimaginable assaults [on the prisoners] are taking place [at these centers].

“I understand that about twenty female prisoners and ten male prisoners are still detained there,” the source continued, adding, “Some people stay in the detention facilities for over three years because officers from their local Ministry of Social Security offices have neglected to pick them up.”

However, a North Korean defector that escaped in 2016 told Daily NK that “detention cells are still somewhat better than re-education through labor camps because the people detained there can be released at any time.” He further noted, however, that “since there are so many people trying to escape from North Korea, detention cells are essentially the same as the camps, with the exception that the prisoners have not yet received a sentence.”

“The Yanggang Province detention facilities are usually filled with people from other regions,” the defector said. “Because prisoners are usually not well-connected, sexual and physical assaults by prison officers happen all the time.”

*Translated by S & J

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