|North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (center) poses with soldiers during a military commanders’ march to revolutionary sites in the Mount Baekdusan region last week. (Yonhap)|
Pyongyang is reportedly expanding its prison camps to accommodate the increasing number of what it calls political criminals, further deepening concerns over human rights abuses in the reclusive state.
Japan’s Sankei Shimbun reported Monday that there had been moves in the North to expand Camp 16 in Hwasong, North Hamgyong Province; Camp 25 in Chongjin of the same province; and Camp 18 in Bukchang, South Pyongan Province.
The North appears to be expanding the existing prisons or constructing new facilities to house a large number of people who were recently arrested for their ties to Jang Song-thaek, the executed uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
Jang, the husband of Kim’s only aunt, Kim Kyong-hui, was executed last December for plotting to overthrow the regime. After the execution, Pyongyang is thought to have purged many of Jang’s associates.
Once dubbed the North’s No. 2 man, Jang had built up a wide network of associates and followers in the ruling Workers’ Party, military and other state organs over several decades.
According to the Japanese newspaper, the communist regime has arrested some 200 senior officials in the party and military for their involvement in a scheme to stage a military coup. Another 1,000 people were arrested for collaborating with or having family ties to the arrested.
The newspaper also said that many top posts in the party and military were left vacant as people with ties to Jang were demoted or went into hiding, and that many are seeking to buy the posts with large kickbacks.
The North’s prison camps have been a hotbed for human rights abuses. Witnesses say that prisoners suffer harsh labor, assaults, executions, torture and other forms of abuse.
The issue of human rights conditions in the North resurfaced last February when the U.N. commission on human rights in North Korea revealed the outcome of its yearlong inquiry into the inhumane practices by officials under the direct control of the autocratic ruler.
The investigation found evidence of torture, execution, arbitrary incarceration, deliberate starvation, enslavement and other abuses.
Michael Kirby, the chair of the commission, wrote a letter to the despotic ruler, warning Kim that he could face trial as a national and military leader at the International Criminal Court for the series of crimes.
The issue of human rights is one of the most sensitive for the dictatorial regime in Pyongyang. It has relied on coercive means to maintain the legitimacy of the hereditary power succession and despotic rule over its starving people.
Amid rising international pressure on the North to improve human rights conditions and scrap its nuclear and missile tests, the North has recently warned of a “new form” of nuclear test.
“The U.S. is seeking a change of North Korean regime by pressuring Pyongyang over its missiles, denuclearization and human rights,” Ri Dong-il, deputy North Korean envoy to the U.N., said last Friday.
“The North has drawn a red line, and should the U.S. continue its provocative moves and cross the line, we will push for a new form of nuclear test.”
By Song Sang-ho (firstname.lastname@example.org