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The story of one N. Korean woman’s tragic death in a reeducation camp

One day in early 2019, a public trial took place in front of the Provincial Performing Troupe Plaza in North Pyongan Province.

That day, five people – four men and one woman – were sentenced to reeducation through labor for smuggling copper stolen from power lines connected to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s villa in Sinuiju. The woman in the group, who was surnamed Kim, received 15 years and was sent to a reeducation camp in Paekto village in Sinuiju.

COVID makes life even harder for reeducation camp inmates

At first, Kim survived because she received food and other necessities regularly when family members visited. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world in 2020, her life in prison changed dramatically.

Beginning in July, Paekto Village Camp suspended all family visits to comply with quarantine regulations. Inmates were also strictly prohibited from receiving outside goods.

Kim could no longer receive food such as cornmeal. The only food she received was rotten rice mixed with corn and salted cabbage broth.

From then on, malnutrition became a common occurrence for reeducation camp inmates like Kim. The prisoners grew weaker by the day. At first, reeducation camps released prisoners suffering from “Level 3” malnutrition – the most severe condition on a three-tiered scale. However, government quarantine regulations prevented even the most severely malnourished prisoners from leaving the camps.

According to prisoner counts at the re-education department and prison of Paekto Village Camp, about 100 prisoners – 60 men and 40 women – died of malnutrition during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The never-ending COVID-19 pandemic forced Kim into extreme circumstances. When her daily necessities dried up after being deprived of family visits for so long, she began to act on her instincts to survive. Without toilet paper, Kim often tore cloth into hand-sized strips to use, or when even that was not enough, she simply washed herself with water. Since water was also precious, in the winter she used melted snow to wash her bottom.

Kim faces extreme malnutrition inside camp

In 2022, salt was worth more than gold in the Paekto Village camp. A spoonful of salt could be exchanged for a pair of cloth work shoes. For starving, barely surviving prisoners, nothing was more necessary than salt. Prisoners would even exchange their underwear for salt. In fact, prisoners often collapsed from the winter cold without warm underwear.

Kim also traded her underwear for salt. But she finally collapsed and died. She was wearing only one piece of outer clothing when she collapsed. Extreme malnutrition and cold were the cause of her death. It was three years after she entered the camp for smuggling copper stolen from a power line connected to one of Kim Jong Un’s villas.

In accordance with long-standing reeducation camp regulations, which require camps to cremate the bodies of prisoners who die while serving their sentences, Kim was reduced to a handful of ashes and scattered at an undisclosed location in the middle of nowhere.

It was not until the following year, 2023, that rumors of Kim’s death, caused by the suspension of family visits for COVID-19 quarantine reasons, reached the outside world through relatives of camp guards and released prisoners.

The deaths of prisoners like Kim, who were forced to endure unsanitary and inhumane conditions due to quarantine regulations, vividly illustrate the horrific conditions in North Korea’s reeducation camps during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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.

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Read in Korean

June 21, 2024 at 07:00AM

by DailyNK(North Korean Media)

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