22 September 2010

Many journalists still held in prison camps

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A former North Korean political prisoner has told Reporters Without Borders (RSF) that two North Korean journalists died in a prison camp in the north-eastern part of the county in 2001. Several journalists continue to be held in harsh conditions in these camps.

Jung Gwang-il, a former Yoduk prison camp detainee, and his colleagues at an NGO called Free the North Korean Gulag have identified 250 people who are being held in this camp for political crimes. They include civil servants, workers, soldiers, writers, businessmen, students and a diplomat who was arrested for meeting with South Koreans while assigned to Paris in the late 1990s.

Journalists were among the first to be targeted and detained because of their criticism of the regime. Kim Kyungcheon, a cameraman with the state propaganda TV station Chosun Jungang, died at the age of 60 after being injured during a forced labour accident in May 2001. Most detainees have to fell trees and chop wood in treacherous winter conditions. He was arrested the previous year for criticising Kim Jong-il's personality cult.

Reporter Cha Gwangho, working for Chosun Jungang, died of malnutrition in the same camp in December 2001 at the age of 65. He was imprisoned in 1999 for criticising the regime. After being injured, his food ration was decreased because he was seen as unproductive. Prisoners are rationed to one bowl of soup a day and have to supplement their diet by eating plants, rats or frogs.

"For lack of information, the fate of tens of thousands of North Korean prisoners of conscience is largely neglected by the international community," RSF said. "The revelation that two journalists died at the start of the last decade, as so many others have done, should stimulate the United Nations to press harder for the closure of North Korea's concentration camps."

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