By Jack Rendler, North Korea Country Specialist
Satellite image of Political Prison Camp 15, North Korea (aka Yodok)
Shin Dong-hyuk was born in a prison camp in North Korea. ‘Guilt-by-association’ (with his parents) meant that he faced a lifetime of imprisonment. He was tortured along with his father. He was forced to watch the execution of his mother and his brother. He witnessed the deaths of many children under the impossible demands of forced labor.
On May 4, Amnesty International released a new report on prison camps in North Korea, accompanied by satellite images that reveal the scope and location of these facilities. Most are located in vast tracts of wilderness: isolated, remote, harsh. And, over the last ten years, they have grown.
Amnesty estimates that these camps hold at least 200,000 men, women and children (estimates by other human rights groups are much higher.) Untold numbers of innocent North Koreans have passed through and passed away in the camps since they were created 60 years ago. Most have no idea why they were arrested; they are held without charge or trial, without access to an independent judiciary.
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Laura Ling and Euna Lee, two US journalists who had been held by North Korean officials since March on charges that they had entered the country illegally to document human rights conditions, were released by the North Korean government subsequent to a visit by former President Bill Clinton and released. The world witnessed an emotional and long-awaited reunion early this morning on the runway of Burbank airport in Los Angeles as the two journalists returned home to their families. After being in prison for 140 days, Laura Ling embraced her husband Iain Clayton tightly as Euna Lee reunited in tears with her husband Michael Saldage and her 4-year-old daughter, Hanna. For a video of the reunion, click here.
As our several previous posts have explained, Laura Ling and Euna Lee were arrested while filming footage on North Korean refugees for California-based TV media venture Current TV. They were later found guilty of illegally entering the country and sentenced to a 12-year sentence of hard labor, consisting of 10 years for “hostile acts” as well as an additional 2 years for illegal entry.
It is clear that the North Korean government requested the visit from former President Clinton, though the details of their agreements have yet to be revealed. According to BBC news, former President Clinton plans to brief President Obama’s National Security team on the visit. President Obama allegedly praised Clinton for his “extraordinary humanitarian effort” in the case of these journalists. After the reunion with their families on the runway, the two journalists spoke briefly to the press about their experience. Laura Ling tenderly shared, “The past 140 days have been the most difficult and heart-wrenching times of our lives.” They also expressed ‘surprise’ at the release. For a video of this, click here. Thanks to everyone who took action on their behalf!