Connect to share and comment

North Korea to release prisoners for dead leaders' birthdays

North Korea will release prisoners as part of a mass amnesty to mark the birthdays of Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung, state media reported today.

Kimjongil 1Enlarge
his 25 April 2007 picture, released from Korean Central News Agency 26 April, shows North Korean soldiers, carrying a large portrait of late North Korean leader Kim Il Sung, marching during a grand military parade to celebrate the 75th founding anniversary of the KPA at the Kim Il Sung square in Pyongyang. (KCNA/AFP/Getty Images)

North Korea will release prisoners in honor of dead leaders Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung, the official Korean Central News Agency reported today.

According to KCNA, the amnesty will begin on Feb. 1, to mark 100 years since Kim Il Sung's birth and 70 since Kim Jong Il's. Those released will be helped to "work and live under stable conditions."

More from GlobalPost: North Korea marks Kim Jong Un's birthday with special video

KCNA said the amnesty was a fitting tribute to the "noble, benevolent and all-embracing politics" of the two late leaders.

The report did not say how many prisoners would be released, or which ones.

Rights group Amnesty International estimates that up to 200,000 people currently detained in political prison camps in North Korea.

North Korean authorities have repeatedly denied the existence of political prisons, but last year Amnesty International claimed to have obtained satellite images and witness accounts that testified to huge, remote camps where inmates are subjected to slave labor, torture and starvation. According to its report:

In most of the camps, no clothing is provided and prisoners face harsh winters. Inmates are also expected to work long hours undertaking strenuous and often pointless manual labour.

Food in the camps is scarce. Amnesty International has been told of several accounts of people eating rats or picking corn kernels out of animal waste purely to survive, despite the risks – anyone caught risks solitary confinement or other torture.

Reports suggest that a wave of detentions followed the death of Kim Jong Il, Amnesty International said, with "possibly hundreds" of officials deemed to be a threat to Kim Jong Un's succession incarcerated or killed. "Tens of thousands" of people are said to have met the same fate after the death of Kim Il Sung.

According to the BBC, North Korea last pardoned prisoners in Aug. 2005, to mark the end of Japanese colonial rule. It is not known how many people were freed.

More from GlobalPost: North Koreans not defectors, says Japan

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/asia-pacific/120110/north-korea-prisoners-released-amnesty