North Korea has expanded the perimeter around one of its infamous prison camps by 20 km, enclosing the surrounding non-prisoner population, according to a new report by the New York-based human rights organization Amnesty International.
Based on satellite imagery of the area that Amnesty International’s Science for Human Rights program commissioned between 2006 and February 2013, the group concluded that the perimeter around prison camp No. 14 had been expanded by 20 km, enclosing the local non-prisoner population and in effect “muddling the line” between the prison camp and surrounding villages.
“North Korea constructed 20km of perimeter around the Ch'oma-Bong valley – located 70km north-northeast of Pyongyang – and its inhabitants, new controlled access points and a number of probable guard towers,” Amnesty International said in a press release.
In the report the group added that analysts reviewing the satellite imagery found that the new guard posts “are concentrated toward the populated area of the valley and the controlled access points, rather than toward the shared perimeter with political prison camp No. 14, indicating their use is more likely for confinement or monitoring of the population within the valley, rather than for security purposes related to prison camp No 14.”
The report notes that mining in the area had increased marginally in recent years, which may explain why the North Korean regime is enclosing the non-prisoner population.
The satellite imagery was originally commissioned by Amnesty International back in 2006 in response to “speculation” that the North Korean regime was building a new prison camp adjacent to Camp 14, which is believed to house around 100,000 people. Camp 14 is a “no-exit” camp meaning that all prisoners are serving life sentences.
Beyond sending individuals it suspects of various crimes to forced labor camps, the North Korean regime often sentences suspects’ relatives to the camps as well. In many cases families are sentenced to the camps for three generations, leading many individuals born in the camp to spend their entire lives in the prisons over crimes their parents or grandparents allegedly committed.
The North Korean regime denies the existence of the forced labor camps in the country, which are believed to hold 200,000 people altogether.
Based on the dates given in the report construction of the new perimeter appears to have begun shortly after Shin Dong-hyuk escaped from Prison Camp No. 14 in 2005.
After being born in the prison camp in 1982, Shin managed to escape from the camp. Shin eventually made it to South Korea after crossing the border into China. He is the only known person to be born in a forced labor camp in North Korea and escaped to tell about it.
The Diplomat cannot confirm whether Shin’s escape and the expansion of the camp’s perimeter are in any way related.
After arriving in South Korea Shin’s story received a lot of attention in the South Korean press and he later wrote a Korean-language memoir about the first twenty three years of his life inside the camp.
In December 2008 Washington Post reporter, Blaine Harden, profiled Shin in a piece for the publication.
After much prodding from Harden, Shin agreed to collaborate with Harden on an English-language memoir on his time in the camp, which ultimately was published in 2012 under the title, Escape From Camp 14. The book received tremendous attention in the U.S. and other parts of the West, and Shin frequently appeared on mainstream media outlets including being interviewed by CNN’s Anderson Cooper for the popular TV show 60 minutes.
Harden published a link to the Amnesty International report on his personal website, along with a caption reading, “Could Shin Dong-hyuk’s account of what goes on inside Camp 14 be causing jitters in Pyongyang?”