The North Korean government may deny their existence, but photos taken from space have revealed in unprecedented detail the concentration camps that are used imprison more than 200,000 citizens.
Men, women and children are forced to work seven days a week as slaves and eat ‘rats, frogs, snakes, insects’ and even faeces to battle starvation in the camps.
Previously there have been blurred images taken by satellite but new detailed pictures from South Korea’s Unification Ministry allow a closer look at the sites – and also prove they have grown.
Experts say the tens of thousands of prisoners at the camps are often taken from their homes or in the street for supposed ‘political crimes’ rather than actual misdemeanours.
Half of all the inmates will die of starvation or malnutrition with others dying because of fatal diseases that thrive in the squalid conditions.
This is if they are not killed by torture, firing squad, or a public stoning by Kim Jong-Il’s violent guards, former prisoners say.
One of the photos shows the Yodok camp, which holds an estimated 50,000 North Korean prisoners and is hidden in the mountains around 70 miles from the capital Pyongyang.
Kang was only nine years old when he and his family were sent there for political crimes.
‘We had no food. We eat anything we could get our hands on — rats, snakes, frogs, insects,’ he told CBN news. ‘We just had to find a way to survive.’
‘Even though it happened a long time ago when I look at the satellite pictures I can still remember everything I saw and endured,’ he said.
‘The camp definitely looks bigger. For example, new buildings for prison guards weren’t there before. I can only assume that means there are more prisoners being held and therefore more security is needed.’
Kang spent 10 years in Yodok before escaping to China in 1992 and wrote about his experiences in the book The Aquariums of Pyongyang.
It is believed he is the first prisoner to reveal to the world the existence of Yodok.
‘The thing I remember the most about in the camp is how the prison guards would kill people for no reason. I witnessed many people being executed,’ he said.
Amnesty International has compared the satellite images to those taken 10 years ago and confirms they are growing in size and branded them ‘hellish’.
‘The outside world certainly doesn’t know what’s going on and very little from the inside comes out,’ Sam Zarifi, from Amnesty International said last month.
‘The very little that has come out paints a very disturbing picture.’
Scott Edwards, director of the science and human rights program at Amnesty International added: ‘The fact that we would have to rely on satellite imagery just to dispel the government’s assertion that these camps don’t exist is testament really to the scale of the human travesty that might be going on inside.’
The news came as it was revealed the South Korean government will send a group of religious leaders and representatives to visit North Korea tomorrow on a peace mission.
The Unification Ministry says delegates from the Korean Conference on Religion and Peace will leave for Pyongyang on Wednesday, where they will discuss peace and human rights issues.
It is also understood they could meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.