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N. Korea continues to operate nine re-education camps throughout the country

North Korea continues to operate nine re-education camps, where the number of inmates detained for violating the country’s law to “eradicate reactionary thought and culture” has recently increased, Daily NK has learned.

Speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons, a Daily NK source in North Korea said last Wednesday that the Corrections Bureau of the Ministry of Social Security “is still operating nine re-education camps, including the Chongo-ri Re-education Camp in North Hamgyong Province and the Songgan Re-education Camp in Chagang Province.”

No new camps were opened or closed, he added.

This means that the number of camps run by the Ministry of Social Security’s Corrections Bureau and their activities have remained essentially unchanged since a Daily NK survey of the camps in 2020. This stagnation contrasts with the political prison camps, where several closed or downsized camps have been reopened or expanded.


“The re-education camps house criminals who have violated every law of the republic’s criminal code,” the source said. “In terms of crimes, violators of the law to eradicate reactionary thought and culture account for the most, followed by people who have committed non-socialist and anti-socialist acts, murder, theft, smuggling, drugs, and kidnapping.

“There are also many people in prison for embezzling state property and damaging the image of the republic abroad,” he continued, adding: “The difference is that because of COVID-19, the number of illegal border crossers, who used to make up the largest number of inmates, has decreased.”

Camp inmates perform forced labor

North Korea sealed its border during the COVID-19 pandemic, ostensibly to prevent the spread of infectious diseases, and severely restricted its people from entering or leaving the country. Under these circumstances, few people attempted to cross the border, resulting in a decrease in the number of reeducation camp inmates detained for illegal border crossings.


The source said that all reeducation camp prisoners perform forced labor with the work groups to which they belong. The work groups include coal mining, mineral mining, forestry, general agricultural work, vegetable farming, rice farming, animal husbandry, cement production, corpse disposal, office work, indoor work (knitting, artificial eyelash production, wig making), and cooking.

Recently, the re-education system in the camps has also changed slightly, the source told Daily NK.

“The re-education camps had been following the teachings of North Korea’s late founder Kim Il Sung, who instructed [the camps] to halve the sentences of recommended prisoners who worked well and led exemplary reform lives, but this changed with an order in July 2023 that called for the selection of candidates for reduced sentences based on the crimes they committed.

“Accordingly, among the candidates for amnesty or reduced sentences, people will be selected or receive reduced sentences based on the crimes they committed. People who stole state or personal property, illegal border crossers, thieves, and smugglers are the most favored candidates, while drug criminals, human traffickers, and robbers are the least favored.”


This means that candidates are chosen based on several factors, such as their crimes, not just on how they live in the camps. The exact standards used, however, remain unknown. North Korea’s penal code provides for short-term labor (one to six months), reform through labor (one to three years), re-education through labor (one to 15 years, including life imprisonment), and the death penalty.

North Korea imposes sentences of forced labor and reeducation through labor through the same process: suspects are first investigated by prosecutors and then undergo a preliminary examination – which weighs the facts and evidence to determine whether punishment is warranted – before going to trial.

People sentenced to re-education are deprived of their civil rights and banned from party and other social organization activities. Those sentenced to forced labor, on the other hand, retain their civil rights and participate in state-mandated activities, including criticism sessions, while performing forced labor in prison.

Translated by David Black. Edited by Robert Lauler.


Daily NK works with a network of sources living in North Korea, China, and elsewhere. Their identities remain anonymous for security reasons. For more information about Daily NK’s network of reporting partners and information-gathering activities, please visit our FAQ page here.

Please send any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

Read in Korean

January 15, 2024 at 10:41AM

by DailyNK(North Korean Media)


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