NORTH KOREA In July, dozens of prisoners starved to death in North Korean jails

There were 35 victims registered in a prison north of Pyongyang. Family members were unable to deliver additional food rations due to restrictions imposed by Covid-19. There are still dozens of severely malnourished inmates. With the pandemic, family visits were once again quarterly.

Pyongyang () – In July alone, at least 35 prisoners died of hunger in a prison north of Pyongyang, North Korea, because relatives were unable to deliver additional food rations due to the restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic. . According to information provided by some internal sources that cites an extensive report by Radio Free Asia (RFA), the deaths due to malnutrition occurred in the Kaechon prison, in the province of South Pyongan. The long hours of forced labor to which the inmates are subjected represent an enormous physical effort and the possibility of survival depends on the additional food provided by relatives during visits. This is how the system worked before the pandemic.

In May, North Korea declared a state of “maximum national emergency” due to the escalation of infections that had begun the previous month. The measure was withdrawn at the end of July, but in these months families living far from the prison were unable to care for their relatives. The consequence was an increase in cases of malnutrition among the prison population and “more than 20 women lost their lives” in a few weeks. “Last week – says the source on condition of anonymity – I visited my sister in Kaechon prison – and she told me that at least 20 inmates died of hunger, added to the harsh working conditions.”

Before the pandemic, the monthly number of deaths was between three and four, adds the source. “There are at least 50 prisoners -he continues- who are seriously malnourished in the women’s prison and were isolated along with the sick. They can’t even get up or sit down. It seems that they are just waiting to die.” “When one dies… the guards go into the cell and stack the corpses to the side. At the end of the month, the other inmates carry the victims on stretchers to bury them in the mountains behind the prison.” Prisoners, he concludes, “cannot bear such hard work eating only a ball of rice.”

After receiving strong international criticism for its treatment of prisoners, North Korea began in 2015 to punish officials in prisons where a large number of deaths were recorded. One of the measures taken was to allow monthly visits instead of quarterly as before. In addition, 10% of the food they brought was to be shared with the entire prison population, so that no inmate would be excluded from extra rations even if he had no relatives.

But when the pandemic began in 2020, visits were once again quarterly, which meant a sharp reduction in the food available and produced a new wave of malnutrition. The authorities, instead of solving the crisis, decided to impose a stricter control on the dissemination of news.

On August 10, Pyongyang declared “victory” in the fight against Covid-19 – which had never been mentioned before, apart from some generic references to a “viral fever” – stating that the country was free of the pandemic. However, news continues to leak abroad that there are still special quarantine centers for infected people or suspected cases. A source from South Pyongan reports that all people with temperatures above 37 degrees must be separated from the community. “The declaration of the authorities affirming that the emergency has ended – he concludes – is only false propaganda”.

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