April 27, 2016 11:03
North Korea has drastically stepped up punishment for people caught trying to flee the country.
According to a report by the Korea Institute for National Unification on Tuesday, the regime has sent people caught trying to flee for the first time directly to labor camps for three to five years since 2014. Until 2013, the regime only sent would-be defectors to labor camps for about six months.
The report is based on interviews with 186 North Korean defectors who arrived here from late 2014 to 2015.
Defectors account for 70 percent of the inmates in labor camps in South Pyongan and North Hamgyong Province.
In order to prevent people from escaping, the regime has tightened border controls and crackdowns on mobile phone use. In the border town Onsong, North Hamgyong Province, the regime has announced it has planted landmines along the Duman River.
It also installed surveillance cameras along major escape routes in Hoeryong and Musan, North Hamgyong Province and reinforced barbed wire in Hyesan in June last year.
To keep out outside information, there are greater crackdowns on recordings of South Korean or Chinese soap operas.
"In the past, anybody could bribe their way out of punishment if they were caught watching recordings smuggled from China. But since 2015 they have been sentenced to hard labor," the report says.
North Korean workers overseas are suffering meager wages and unreasonable hours. A defector, who used to work at a building site in Russia, said, "I earned US$1,000 to 1,500 per year, the amount an ordinary Russian worker can earn in a month. Russian law stipulates working hours from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but North Korean laborers there work from 5 a.m. until midnight."
There are five political concentration camps in the North, where between 80,000 and 120,000 political prisoners are believed to be held.
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