New satellite images and firsthand accounts from former political prisoners and former jailers in North Korea have confirmed the massive scale and bleak conditions of the penal system in the secretive North, according to a report released Wednesday by the human rights group Amnesty International. Former inmates at the political labor camp at Yodok said they were frequently tortured and had been forced to watch executions of fellow prisoners, the report said, noting that North Korea’s network of political prisons, known as “kwan li-so,” is estimated to hold about 200,000 inmates.
“North Korea can no longer deny the undeniable,” said Sam Zarifi, the Asia Pacific director of Amnesty International. “For decades, the authorities have refused to admit to the existence of mass political prison camps. These are places out of sight of the rest of the world.” The report says that almost the entire range of human rights protections that international law has tried to set up” for the last 60 years “are ignored.”
After comparing recent satellite photos of prison camps with images from 10 years ago, Mr. Zarifi said, his group became concerned that the “prison camps appear to be growing in size.” North Korea’s work farms and prison factories are the world’s most notorious, according to human rights experts. Political prisoners sentenced to hard labor initially included landlords, purged party officials and the religiously active, according to Stephan Haggard and Marcus Noland, the authors of “Witness to Transformation,” an authoritative study of North Korean refugees.