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North Korea: Up to 200,000 political prisoners held in appalling conditions

last updated May 17, 2011

The human rights group Amnesty International (AI) has published satellite images showing the enormous scale of the prison system in North Korea. It is estimated that up to 200,000 people are being held in appalling conditions and subjected frequently to torture and ill-treatment.

The information was gathered during interviews with former detainees and prison guards. Only very few people managed to escape North Korea after having been released from one of the numerous political prison camps. The testimony of the former detainees draws a cruel picture. Prisoners are forced to work in conditions approaching slavery and receive only very little food and no clothing. All of the detainees have witnessed public executions in the camps.

The camps are believed to be running since the 1950s and some of them, labeled Total Control Zones, have been constructed for political prisoners with no perspectives of ever being released. The satellite images indicate that the scale of the prison camps has significantly increased since the last pictures in 2001.

AI: Images reveal scale of North Korean political prison camps

NY Times: North Korean Prison Camps Massive and Growing

Democratic People's Republic of Korea country profile