May 01, 2012 11:44
North Korean concentration camps are traditionally associated with prisoners of conscience, but a recent report by the National Human Rights Commission shows that there are more prisoners there who were caught fleeing the impoverished country in search of food or work or those associated with them, than those imprisoned for their political beliefs.
According to the report on North Korean human rights based on interviews with 800 North Korean defectors, the most common reason for imprisonment accounting for 23.7 percent of 278 inmates was escaping in search of food and work.
People who aided and abetted defectors were also imprisoned. Some were sent to the camps for receiving money sent from a family member who had defected to South Korea. About 16.2 percent had made critical comments about the regime or praised South Korea and the West.
Of these, some were imprisoned for criticizing dead leader Kim Jong-il or speaking truthfully about the poor quality of hospitals in the North. Even a comment like "I want to live in another country" can get people sent to the camps.
Another 15.8 percent were in the camps through guilt by association. One inmate was there because his father forgot to refer to nation founder Kim Il-sung by the honorific "Great Leader."
There are five confirmed cases of people being imprisoned for Christian worship. Only 64 cases or 23 percent involved people accepting bribes, amassing slush funds, engaging in espionage or committing other serious offenses, according to the report.
A former high-ranking North Korean defector said, "Prison camps that hold people caught escaping hunger and poverty or those who helped them must be dismantled."
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