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North Korea: Amnesty announced for political prisoners

Amnesties like the one announced today usually take place during auspicious moments in the country's political calendar.

North korea daily life2 2011 04 09Enlarge
A soldier stands guard on the aircraft park of the Pyongyang Airport on April 3, 2011 in Pyongyang, North Korea. (Feng Li/Getty Images)

TOKYO, Japan — Having burnished Kim Jong Un's military credentials in a 50-minute documentary released on his birthday Jan. 8, North Korea's propaganda machine on Tuesday attempted to present him as a great humanitarian.

The regime, widely recognized as one of the most repressive in the world, announced it would grant special pardons for an unspecified number of convicts to mark the birthdays of Kim's two predecessors — his father and grandfather.

The amnesty, the first in more than six years, will begin on Feb. 1, the state-run Korean Central New Agency said. It did not say how many prisoners would be released or which crimes would be pardoned.

Speculation is growing that the double anniversary could see an unusually large number go free.

More from GlobalPost: Former North Korean prisoner can't forget

The regime has a big enough pool of prisoners to choose from. Last year, Amnesty International said the North holds as many as 200,000 people in political prison camps.

The amnesties usually take place during auspicious moments in the country's political calendar, such as the founding of the ruling Korean Workers' Party, according to Park In Ho, the president of Daily NK, a Seoul-based internet site that monitors the North.

More from GlobalPost: North Korea prisoners, 200,000 and counting

But Park said the gesture would not amount to a genuine amnesty.

"We have heard that usually within three months, large numbers of other people get hauled into the prison camps again," he told CNN. "So in the long run, the country maintains almost the same number of prisoners consistently, aside from the one or two months immediately after the amnesty order."

The last mass pardoning took place in August 2005 to mark the 60th anniversary of the Korean peninsula's liberation from Japan, according to the Unification Ministry in Seoul. This year it will coincide with the 70th birthday of former leader Kim Jong Il on Feb. 16 and the centenary of the birth of the country's founder Kim Il Sung on April 15.

The North is not alone in pardoning convicts to mark special dates: later this month South Korea will release almost 1,000 prisoners to coincide with the Lunar New Year's Day.

And in case you missed it, here's the video lauding Kim Jong Un's military credentials that was released on his birthday:

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