Camp 15 Gone But No Liberty for Prisoners

Choi Song Min  |  2014-11-08 05:32

Detainees held until recently at North Koreas notorious political prison camp in Yodeok County have been moved to two alternate camps, an inside source from North Hamkyung Province has alleged to Daily NK.

That political prison camp that used to be in Yodeok County in South Hamkyung has already been broken up. Theres not a trace of it left," the source, who is with the military in the northerly province, claimed in conversation with Daily NK on the 7th. However, the disbanding of Camp 15 does not seem to have brought liberty for many of its inmates. According to the same source, The political prisoners who were there have been divided up and moved to camps 14 and 16.

Camp 16 is in northerly Myeonggan (formerly Hwasong) County, North Hamkyung Province. Camp 14 (Kaecheon), which is further west in South Pyongan Province, is infamous for having been the home of defector-activist Shin Dong Hyuk.

It seems that closing Camp 15 was the next step after they closed Camp 22 at Hoeryong in June 2012, the source went on to propose. The majority of the buildings and facilities they used have been razed. However, he was not able to say exactly when the closure may have taken place, or when the process of moving the prisoners was completed. The transportation up to Camp 15 is in a remote mountainous region so it is totally cut off from ordinary residents, he offered by way of explanation.

Unlike North Koreas other political prison camps, the camp at Yodeok was divided into Revolutionizing (see image above. Image: Google Earth) and Completely Controlled zones. Persons charged with relatively minor offenses were imprisoned in the former area, wherein whole families were able to live together. Those accused of grave offenses were detained in the latter area of the camp. However, the source said that it was also possible for inmates to be sent out of the Completely Controlled Zone to serve time in the Revolutionizing Zone, while there were also some cases of prisoners being released after finishing their sentences.

The residents of the Revolutionizing Zone are mostly the families of minor criminals, and right now they appear to be right where they were before, he said. Since they don't have freedom of movement without the express permission of the State Security Department, such families can't even move to different regions, much less visit distant relatives. 

When they closed down Camp 22 two years ago, there was word of mouth among locals and some collective farms moved in there, so in the end word about it spread pretty quickly," the source explained. "However, all the buildings and facilities over at Yodeok have been demolished and the whole area is still under the control of State Security, so nobody really knows when the prisoners were moved.

It is widely believed that the goal of the North Korean authorities in closing down Yodeok is to allow international observers to visit the site in order to popularize the notion that North Korea doesn't have any political prison camps. In keeping with this hypothesis, Pyongyang recently granted permission for the UN's point man on North Korean human rights, Marzuki Darusman, to visit the country, and made a video casting doubt upon the testimony of Shin Dong Hyuk through his father.

Meanwhile, on October 28th the NIS, South Korea's state intelligence agency, reported to the National Assembly that a prison camp at Mt. Mantap in Kilju County, the area of North Hamkyung Province that houses North Koreas underground nuclear test site, has recently been substantially expanded. The NIS reported that North Korea were planning to move the residents of Yodeok to the expanded camp. The expansion has not been independently verified.

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