01/21/2010, 00.00
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More than 200,000 political and religious prisoners in North Korea

by Joseph Yun Li-sun
South Korea’s National Human Rights Commission of Korea releases its findings on the matter. It is the first government agency that officially deals with the issue. Sources tell AsiaNews that many of those in detention are religious believers.
Seoul (AsiaNews) – The National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) released a report yesterday in the South Korean capital of Seoul, saying that North Korea has approximately 200,000 political prisoners.

“We have found through” our “investigation, in which we were aided by other organizations” that “there are six camps for political prisoners in North Korea,” an NHRCK official said. “Within the six camps, excluding some areas of Yodok camp located in South Hamgyung Province, political prisoners are being held indefinitely upon imprisonment” in chains.

As for the overall human rights situation in North Korea, the Commission has no doubts, “Nearly every type of human rights violation has occurred in those political concentration camps including the secret execution of prisoners” without a trial.

For the NHRCK, “The South Korean government should persuade the North Korean government to resolve those problems through cooperation with domestic and foreign North Korean human rights organizations”.

Speaking to AsiaNews, a local source said, “The situation is even more serious if you consider that there are neither official nor unofficial data about prisoners. Kim Jong-il’s regime even enforces a law that says that if a man is a thief, so are his children and grandchildren. With such a crazy theory in the criminal code, prisons and concentration camps fill up quickly.”

In addition, for the government in Pyongyang, “any religious activity, except that of the ‘dear leader’ is an act of submission to foreign imperialism. For this reason, religious believers of every faith are among the most affected by government repression,” the source said.

“Finally, the extreme economic crisis that has hit the country does not help. People who have been hungry for days are ready to break the law no matter what.”

The NHRCK report is the first of its kind by a South Korean government agency. The Commission interviewed 17 exiles who had been incarcerated in North Korean camps and 322 refugees who fled to South Korea in the past year.

There have been critics of the report however. Seo Bo-hyuk, a professor at the Ewha Womans University’s Center for Peace Studies, said, “The South Korean government will be able to persuade the North Korean government to improve their human rights situation only when inter-Korean relations have improved. [. . .] A unilateral demand from South Korea could stifle the improvement of inter-Korean relations.”

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