Life and death in North Korea

According the news, descriptions of eyewitnesses and North Korean citizens, the life in North Korea is not too different to death. And death is everywhere as it was during black plague in Europe: piles of dead bodies are around the streets, dogs and rats eating those who are still alive but can’t move. And those who can, eat rats and dogs. People can’t say anything, can’t do anything, can’t go anywhere. They have strictest instructions from the state: what to think, what to say, what not to say, what to eat, where to go, what to watch etc. Just watching a Chinese movie or having in your hands anything produced not in North Korea is punished by death. The life looks much like the one in Brazilian fawela where you also can be shot for holding your cell phone in your hands.

In North Korea people are prisoners of their own country which has been turned into GULAG. They can’t move from one district to another or quit a country. Police can come to your house any moment and ask about everything: what you did today, whom you met, what you know about them, what you think about this or that, whom you talked and what you told them and what they told you. And if they see fit they can take you to some “reeducation” where everything you thought / did wrong will be beaten out of you.

Strange enough but in a prison state there exists a net of actual prisons as if all country were not a prison already. They are called prisons but are acting as slow executions or graves for the still living.

This state in many things represents Orwell’s 1984 not closely but literally. For example there are parts of this net of prisons that does not only represent called exactly as they were in that book, “reeducation” for example. Other example is all soldiers have mandatory TV in their rooms, this TV is always working and they must listen to it all time when they do not work or sleep.

Below are experts from the book In Order To Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom, by Yeonmi Park and quotes of some other North Korean Defectors revealing how life in North Korea really looks like.

Thought police

“I was taught never to express my opinion, never to question anything. I was taught simply to follow what the government told me to do or say or think. I actually believed that our Dear Leader, Kim Jong Il, could read my mind, and I would be punished for my bad thoughts. And if he didn’t hear me, spies were everywhere, listening at the windows and watching in the school yard.

We were ordered to inform on anyone who said the wrong thing. We lived in fear. In most countries, a mother encourages her children to ask about everything, but not in North Korea. As soon as I was old enough to understand, my mother warned me to be careful about what I was saying. ‘Remember, Yeonmi-ya,’ she said gently, ‘even when you think you’re alone, the birds and mice can hear you whisper.’”

A prisoner of your district
(this was also so in Soviet Union)

“In North Korea you couldn’t choose where you want to live. The government has to give you permission to move outside your assigned district, and the authorities don’t make it easy. The only good reasons are a job transfer, marriage or divorce”.

Movement without permission was enough reason to sent a citizen to prison or “reeducation camp”.

Raising murder machines

“In school you are drilled in the Ten Principles of the regime, like the Ten Commandments. And you are taught to hate the enemies of the state with a burning passion.”

“Even arithmetic was a propaganda tool. A typical problem would go like this: ‘If you kill one American bastard and your comrade kills two, how many dead American bastards do you have?’ We could never just say ‘American’ – that would be too respectful. It had to be ‘American bastard’ or ‘Yankee devil’.”
[Yeonmi Park]

“There’s a TV in every army barracks. When there was a nuclear test, state TV told us to feel proud, so we did,” Lee says. “Even when there were peace talks between North and South Korea, state TV told us it was a ploy by the South to take over our country.”
[Lee So-yeon, a North Korean defector, used to be a signal corpsman in North Korea’s army.]

Executions for everything

“In Hyesan when I was little, a young man was executed for killing and eating a cow. It was a crime to eat beef without special permission. Cows were the property of the state, and were too valuable to eat because they were used for ploughing fields and dragging carts, so anybody who butchered one would be stealing government property.

The young man suffered from tuberculosis and had nothing to eat, but that didn’t make any difference to the police. They announced his execution to the whole city, and then brought him to the market and tied his chest, knees and ankles to a heavy piece of wood. Three men with rifles stood in front of him and began firing.

The executioners tried to cut the ropes with bullets and it took a long time. Finally they succeeded, and the dead man flopped to the ground. My mother watched in shock as they stuffed the body into a sack and drove it off in the back of a truck. She couldn’t believe that in her own country a human life had less value than an animal’s.”
[Yeonmi Park]

Life worse than death

“It was normal to see bodies in the rubbish heaps, normal to walk by and do nothing when a stranger cried out for help.”

“There are images I can never forget. Late one afternoon my sister and I found the body of a young man beside a pond. It was a place where people went to fetch water, and he must have dragged himself there to drink. He was naked and his eyes were staring, his mouth wide open in an expression of terrible suffering.

I had seen many dead bodies before, but this was the most horrible and frightening of all, because his insides were coming out where something – maybe dogs – had ripped him open. I was embarrassed for him, lying there stripped of his clothes and his dignity. I grabbed my sister’s hand and we ran home.

Almost everyone I knew lost family in the famine. There were so many desperate people on the streets crying for help that you had to shut off your heart or the pain would be too much. After a while you can’t care any more. And that is what hell is like.”
[Yeonmi Park]

Poop quota

“One of the main problems in North Korea was a fertilizer shortage. When the economy collapsed in the 1990s the Soviet Union stopped sending fertilizer to us, and our own factories stopped producing it. This led to crop failures that made the famine even worse.

So the government came up with a campaign to fill the fertilizer gap with a local and renewable source: human and animal waste. Every worker and schoolchild had a quota to fill. You can imagine what kind of problems this created for our families. Every member of the household had a daily assignment, so when we got up in the morning, it was like a war.

My aunts were the most competitive. ‘Remember not to poop in school,’ my aunt in Kowon told me every day. ‘Wait to do it here.’ Whenever my aunt in Songnam-ri travelled away from home and had to poop somewhere else, she loudly complained that she didn’t have a plastic bag with her to save it.

‘Next time I’ll remember,’ she would say. Some people would lock up their outhouses to keep the poop thieves away. At school the teachers would send us out into the streets to find dog mess and carry it back to class. This is not something you see every day in the West.”
[Yeonmi Park]

Islamic rules under atheist regime

In communist society where everyone is said to be equal, equality of women is used only as equality of quota demanded in prison camps in a hardest possible work for which not even all men are capable of. As well as the equality of horrific bodily punishments, beatings by males etc. closing eyes on pregnancy and other vulnerability. While everyday life as “free” citizens in allegedly atheist state happens to be as xian / mudslime / buddhist towards women as it is under actual xianity / pisslam / buddhism.

“When I was growing up, women could not sit at the same table with men. Many of my neighbors’ and classmates’ houses had special bowls and spoons for their fathers. it was commonplace for a husband to beat his wife. We had one neighbor whose husband was so brutal that she couldn’t click her chopsticks while she ate for the fear that he would hit her for making noise”.
[Yeonmi Park]

“Reeducation” also known as “workers’ training corps”

(could be used for the families of those considered guilty in anything, for light crimes such as dating or for children and teenagers because it was considered lighter punishment)

[part of a story] “But when they were living with her Chinese husband, the police captured and repatriated the. The daughter was too young for a prison camp, so she was sent for “reeducation” – which meant she was starved and beaten for weeks…”.

“Prisoners slept together in a lice-infested room and were sent out during the day to build bridges and work on other heavy construction projects. There were only a few women in my mother’s unit, but the guards made them work as hard as the men. If anyone was too slow, the whole group would be forced to run around the camp all night without a sleep as punishment. To make sure that didn’t happen the prisoners would beat one another if someone wasn’t working fast enough”.
[Yeonmi Park]

Death penalty for watching a film

Once this author remember how her friend’s mother was shot in public so that as much people as possible could see her death, for watching and giving others to watch some film. Not propaganda, not any ideology, just a mere recreation thing which was produced not in North Korea.

“There was an endless list of crimes in North Korea. The government was obsessed with preventing corrupt ideas from penetrating our borders, so all foreign media were forbidden. Although many families owned televisions, radios and VCR players, they were allowed to access only state-generated news programs and propaganda films, which were incredibly boring.

Radios and televisions came sealed and permanently tuned to state-approved channels. If you tampered with them, you could be arrested and sent to a labour camp for re-education”.

“…the film that changed my life was Titanic.

I couldn’t believe how someone could make a film out of such a shameful love story. In North Korea the filmmakers would have been executed. No real human stories were allowed, nothing but propaganda about the Leader.”
[Yeonmi Park]

In the prison camp

All above quotes mostly describe free or half free citizen’s (like with “re-education”) life in North Korea. Below is life of a prisoner.

[story of Yeonmi’s father]

“…His ID card had been destroyed when he went to prison – only human beings can have IDs and he was considered subhuman”.

“He was beaten. Guards placed sticks between his fingers and crunched them together. He was made to sit in excruciating stress positions for interminable periods.

‘The environment was crazy. So many bugs and lice,’ Yeonmi says. ‘They treated them like animals. He was a really brilliant man. He was my hero, and the country just beat him. I couldn’t believe it.’

Yeonmi’s father was luckier than many North Koreans who were spirited off to the country’s Soviet-style gulags, never to return. According to a Human Rights Watch report in January this year, up to 120,000 political prisoners, among them children, are currently being held in secretive labour camps known in Korean as the kwan-li-so.

Torture including ‘sleep deprivation, beatings with iron rods or sticks, kicking and slapping, and enforced sitting or standing for hours’, is routine, the group found.


Inside North Korea’s barbaric prisons where inmates are starved, tortured, undergo forced abortions and dig their own graves [news]

It is hard to imagine a grimmer existence than that of an inmate in a North Korean prison camp.

Deprived of food, they are forced to eat rats and frogs to survive housed in cramped cells infested with lice. Regular beatings and potentially fatal torture are the norm. Then there is the hard labour, which includes pulling ploughs across fields for 12 hours a day.

An estimated 200,000 victims of Kim Jong-un’s despotic rule are thought to be living lives of utter wretchedness in his internment camps at any one time.

The camps are patrolled by guards equipped with automatic rifles, hand grenades and trained dogs.

Prisoners are routinely deprived of water and food torture includes ‘sleep deprivation, beatings with iron rods or sticks, kicking and slapping, and enforced sitting or standing for hours’, is routine,

Inmates are allowed just one set of clothes they live and die in rags without soap, socks, underclothes or sanitary napkins.”

In 2014 Yeonmi Park told of how her father was tortured after being jailed for illegal trading.

Guards placed sticks between his fingers and crunched them together. He was made to sit in excruciating stress positions for interminable periods

One camp – Hoeryong concentration camp – known as “Camp 22” closed in 2012 after a warder defected but extreme human rights violations including routine torture, forced labour and human medical experiments had previously been reported.

Families of inmates are viewed as guilty by association and so who generations are sent to camps.

An Amnesty International film has former prisoners and their captors talking about the horror of life inside North Korea’s prison camps.

They describe forced abortions, impossibly hard labour, starvation and prisoners forced to dig their own graves.

Kim Young-Soon, who spent nine years in a political prison camp Yodok, said: “It’s a place that would make your hand stand on end.

“From sunrise to sunset you work, there are no set working hours.

“You get up at 3.30am to report for work at 4.30am and then you work until it gets dark.

“When my parents died of starvation in a camp I didn’t have coffins for them and I wrapped their in straw and carried them on my back to bury them.”

A former prison official said inmates would need to walk 12 miles to fields they had to plough.

He said: “I have witnessed prisoners forced to dig their own grave and then being made to stand before the grave and killed with a metal hammer.

“Another time they use a rubber rope which when the prisoner is struck with it wraps itself around the neck and then pulled to strangle them.

Another former guard said his camp was surrounded by an inner perimeter consisting of a 3,300-volt electric fence.

People who tried to escape would have to negotiate this then had to contend with a no-man’s land dotted with man-traps and upturned nails with the final barrier a cordon of barbed wire.

“When my parents died of starvation in a camp I didn’t have coffins for them and I wrapped their in straw and carried them on my back to bury them.”

Prisoners were beaten for various reasons (e.g. lying or being suspected of lying, not working fast enough, forgetting the words to patriotic songs

The report said more than 90 per cent of the interviewees either witnessed beatings or were hit themselves while in detention

Many of those in prison camps end up their because they are caught illegally crossing into China looking for work and food.

Article 62 of North Korea’s revised 2004 Criminal Code punishes its citizens for travelling to another country without state permission: “Any citizen who defects, surrenders, or gives secrets to a foreign country or to the enemy in betrayal of the country and the people shall be sentenced to a reeducation through labour institution for not less than five years.

“In cases where the person commits an extremely grave offence, he or she shall be given life imprisonment in a re-education through labour institution, the death penalty or have his or her property confiscated.”

Inmates, the report found, are often refused access to the toilet, one interviewee said: “I was hit once because I asked one of the guards if I could go to the toilet.

“He wouldn’t let me, but I was so desperate that I went anyway. I got caught and was hit in the head with a gun cleaning rod. I was bleeding, but received no medical attention.

“They just put cigarette ashes on my wound to stop the bleeding.”



In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom

My North Korean childhood

Escape from North Korea: ‘How I escaped horrors of life under Kim Jong-il’

Inside North Korea’s barbaric prisons where inmates are starved, tortured, undergo forced abortions and dig their own graves

‘I Was Shocked By Freedom’: Defectors Reflect On Life In North Korea