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You’ve been warned.
It takes only an accusation of political “offense” or “unreliability” to be sent off to an internment camp in North Korea. This includes guilt by association, so if one of your family members or friends decides to even act remotely suspicious at all, you’ll be coming along with them. Trying to illegally leave the country, listening to a South Korean broadcast, or criticizing government policy are all offenses that will place you in a “revolutionary zone”. If you’re someone who “committed crimes against the regime” or have been denounced as “politically unreliable” (Christians, for example), you’ll be headed to a “total control zone”. The only difference between the two is that the former gives a vague promise of an eventual release, while the later involves life in prison.
You might be sent to Yodok, where you’ll live in Kwansilo 15 (translated as “correctional facility”), a political prison where the average temperature ranges from -4 to -22 degrees in winter; one toilet is shared among 200 inmates; adequate medicine is not accessible; and you’ll be forced to watch executions involving the hangings or shootings of your fellow inmates. Shin Dong-hyuk, who was born in Kwansilo 14 and managed to escape to tell his tale described being forced to watch public executions:
“Shortly after my father and I were reunited after being tortured at a torture chamber in Kwansilo 14 for over seven months, we were blindfolded again and taken outside to a public square where a crowd of people had gathered. I recognized the place as a public execution site that was used two to three times every year. The hand cuffs were removed, and we were told to sit in the front row of the crowd. We saw two convicts, a man and a woman, being dragged to the site from some distance. As the convicts were dragged closer, to my horror, I recognized them; they were my mother and brother! My brother was obviously very weak, his bones clearly visible beneath his skin, my mother seemed swollen from head to foot. An indictment was read aloud, the final words of which stated that Chang Hye-kyong and Shin Ha-kun, enemies of the people, were sentenced to death. And then, in front of my father and me, my mother was first executed by hanging and, then, my brother was shot by a firing squad.”
Political prisoners endure punishments that include being placed indefinitely in a solitary 4×4 cell, water boarding, being beaten while being suspended from a rope that’s tied to handcuffs locked to ankles and wrists, sleep deprivation, bamboo slits under fingernails, et al. If they don’t die from an execution or torture, they’ll be among the 40 per cent who perish from malnutrition. Food is found by any means necessary, including hunting rats and snakes, and, what Shin Dong-hyuk describes a “lucky day”, finding “kernels of corn in a small pile of cow dung.”
The North Korean government (despite testimonies from former detainees and satellite photos) denies the existence of the prisons which hold 200,000 inmates.