(Photo: REUTERS/Jacky Chen)
International human rights group Amnesty International has obtained satellite images of North Korea that expose some of its largest prison camps, where hundreds of thousands of people, including children, are believed to be kept "in horrific conditions."
"The gruesome reality of North Korea's continued investment in this vast network of repression has been exposed. We urge the authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all those prisoners of conscience held in political prison camps and close the camps immediately," said Rajiv Narayan, Amnesty International's East Asia researcher.
Amnesty's detailed report said that the new findings are of "grave concern," as it shows that North Korean authorities are investing in and maintaining political prison camps – described as places of "systematic, widespread and grave human rights violations, such as forced hard labor, denial of detainee's food quota as punishment, torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment."
Hundreds of thousands of people, including children, are believed to be kept at those "six sprawling political prison camps," many of whom have not committed any crime but are merely family members of those deemed guilty of serious political crimes.
The images, commissioned by satellite imagery vendor DigitalGlobe, expose prison camps "kwanliso" 15 and 16, and according to the human rights organization show proof that the Pacific nation has no intentions of scaling back on its forced labor system, where torture, starvation, rape and death are a fact of life.
"The satellite images reveal significant economic activity such as mining, logging and agriculture which, according to testimony, use a prison labor force who work long hours in dangerous conditions, are subjected to denial of food quota as punishment and with limited hours of rest," the report continued.
Security is also very tight, with perimeter fences and security points clearly marked.
North Korea is listed as the most oppressive country in the world for Christians by persecution watchdog group Open Doors, with the political regime strictly opposed to religious groups.
"Christians are classified as hostile and face arrest, detention, torture or even public execution. There is a vigorous elimination program in existence to convert, imprison, banish or execute individuals who have converted to Christianity: Koreans who have converted after defecting to China and are later repatriated are in particular danger," Open Doors has noted.
Public executions are also held across several cities. Reports from November state that Kim Jong-un ordered the deaths of 80 prisoners for offenses such as possessing Bibles or watching South Korean movies, which goes strongly against the nation's laws.
"This is a reflection of a regime that is increasingly fearful of its own people and has to send a powerful, brutal message by doing high profile public executions. We have certainly seen these public executions used in the past by Kim Jong Il," Suzanne Scholte, president of human rights group Defense Forum Foundation, previously said in an email to The Christian Post.
The newly released satellite images have been shared with the U.N. Commission of Inquiry, which is investigating human rights abuses in North Korea. Amnesty added that it is urging the North Korean government to immediately close its vast prison camps and to release all prisoners of conscience, including family members held there by association.