The Washington Post

Satellite images show growth of North Korean labor camp

A satellite image of Camp 25 in 2013.(Committee for Human Rights in North Korea)

New satellite images released this week by the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea chronicle what it says is steady growth in a prison camp on the northeast coast.

Camp 25, one of dozens of gulags in North Korea, grew 72 percent between 2009 and 2010 alone, the report says. Between 2003 and 2013, the camp expanded to include several new buildings, agricultural fields and almost two dozen guards, the committee says. The camp is estimated to house about 5,000 prisoners.

As the Post’s Chico Harlan has reported, gulags are alive and well in North Korea -- despite official claims to the contrary:

Today Pyongyang operates six giant political prison camps as well as dozens of smaller facilities that emphasize “re-education” as well as pure labor. At all but one of those major gulags, prisoners stay for life and remain officially “missing” even after they die. Amnesty International estimates that the North holds roughly 200,000 people at these gulags — one in every 120 citizens.

In October, rumors spread that North Korea had shut down Camp 22, its largest labor camp. While that doesn’t appear to be true -- satellite photos show well-tended fields and piled coals -- HRNK theorizes that downsizing and consolidation at other facilities could explain the growth at Camp 25. A crackdown on would-be defectors and political opponents could also be behind the expansion.

In either case, it’s impossible to do more than guess at the reasons for Camp 25’s shifting borders. The gulags remain one of the most shadowy corners of the already secretive North Korea -- they only recently showed up on maps. And because most inmates are imprisoned for life, even to the second or third generation, few people have managed to share stories from inside the camp.

Shin Dong-hyuk was the first known escapee when he fled to South Korea in 2008.

“It is just a matter of time before Kim Jong Il thinks of this," Shin said in an interview with the Post, referring to video footage he’d seen of the Holocaust. "I hope that the United States, through pressure and persuasion, can convince Kim not to murder all those people in the camps."

Caitlin Dewey is The Post’s digital culture critic. Follow her on Twitter @caitlindewey or subscribe to her daily newsletter on all things Internet. (



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