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North Korean Political Prisoners


North Korean defector reacts next to a drawing depicting a public execution of a North Korean soldier during a human rights rally in Seoul. (File)

80,000-120,000 North Koreans — including women and children – are imprisoned in North Korean political prison camps facing starvation, forced labor, executions, and torture.

The U.S. Government recently featured twenty cases of women being unjustly detained for their beliefs or for their defense of the rights of others in a month-long campaign known as #FreeThe20. Day 18 of the campaign was dedicated to the 80,000-120,000 North Koreans — including women and children – who are imprisoned in North Korean political prison camps facing starvation, forced labor, executions, and torture.

In the brutal North Korean prison camp system, women are subjected to rape, sexual violence, and forced abortion. In the past, defectors have described political offenses that could result in imprisonment as including burning old currency or criticizing the government’s currency revaluation, sitting on newspapers bearing Kim Il Sung’s or Kim Jong Il’s picture, mentioning Kim Il Sung’s limited formal education, or defacing photographs of the Kims.

The accounts of political prisoners who have managed to escape North Korea are particularly chilling:

Kim Young-soon, a former inmate of Prison Camp 15, said she and other prisoners were so famished they picked kernels of corn from the dung of cattle to eat. She said, “If there was a day that we were able to have mouse, that was a special diet for us. We had to eat everything alive, every type of meat we could find. Everything that flew, that crawled on the ground, any grass that grew in the field.”

At the close of the #FreeThe20 campaign, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power said "We have been saying to the governments holding these prisoners, and others like them: if you want to empower women, don’t imprison them on the basis of their views or beliefs. And to the women and their families, we have been saying: We have not forgotten you. We will continue to fight for your release and that of others like you."

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