While the rest of the world worries about Kim Jong Un's volatility on the nuclear front, experts and human rights activists tell the Washington Post that regular North Koreans are already living out a nightmare in the form of "unyielding gulag systems." They're now talking about prison camps, but not the ones managed by the country's secret police and notorious for extreme treatment of their political prisoners. Instead, a new report due out Thursday, complete with satellite imagery, shows a series of "re-education" camps, said to be managed by the Ministry of Public Security, scattered around cities and deep in the mountains, where people who committed less-severe crimes are still kept in punishing conditions. In 2014, the UN's Commission of Inquiry deemed the entire prison system there a "crime against humanity."
The new images show standard prison-camp environs: guard towers, barbed-wire fences, even rock quarries where prisoners are forced to crush limestone. Report author David Hawk notes "a lot of the people in these prisons are there for crimes that would not be crimes in another country," like making too much money on the stock market. In addition to the photos, Hawk's report includes years of testimony he gathered from those who've lived through the prison camp experience and then fled North Korea. And that experience sounds brutal, including hard labor in dangerous conditions, torture, and "inadequate" food supplies, resulting in a "dreadfully large numbers" of deaths, per Hawk. The only saving grace of these camps: There's a chance of being let out, unlike political prisoners, who are sent away for life. (A North Korean defector now living in LA describes a "life of hell" for Christians.)