The sentencing of two American journalists to 12 years of “reform” through hard labor by North Korea has drawn attention to one of the world’s most cruel penal systems.
But Andrei Lankov, a North Korea expert at Seoul’s Kookmin University, said authorities have little incentive to place the reporters in the nation’s gulag system. “They will never be sent to a real prison camp, as they would see a lot of things an outsider is not meant to see,” he said.
Choi Jong-kun — an international relations specialist at Yonsei University — added that, had the two been North Korean citizens instead of Americans, their situation would have been far worse.
Conditions for natives who fall under North Korean justice are harsh, especially if their crimes involve criticism of the sadistic dictator Kim Jong-il.
Human rights groups, basing their estimates on defector testimonies, believe that about 200,000 prisoners are in North Korea’s gulag system. Many are family members imprisoned for the crimes of their relatives, especially when the crimes are political.
Shin Dong-hyuk, who escaped from the gulag in 2005, told foreign reporters in Seoul of life inside the secretive“Total Control Camp 14.”
There, he said, guards routinely mutilated prisoners — including children — with hooks and knives for mistakes and rule infractions.