What is the North Korean Prison System like?

What is the North Korean Prison System like?

You’re looking at the Ryugyong Hotel in
Pyongyang. It’s North Korea’s tallest building, standing
105 stories. Construction began on the hotel in 1987, and
had it been completed according to schedule, it would have opened in 1989. It’s been nicknamed “Hotel Doom” and
I think you can see why. But the original idea was pretty cool, I guess. It would have been the world’s tallest hotel
and included 3,000 rooms for guests, for restaurants, for rotating restaurants, for rotating residences…bells
and whistles. But at this point you might be wondering why
I keep using these theoretical phrases, it ‘would have been’, it ‘could have been’. There were some delays. Construction began in 1987, but by 1989 only
the frame was done. After the Soviet Union collapsed, foreign
investment dried up for North Korea, and construction stopped in 1992. In 2008, they tried again, and in three years
the facade was done. They wanted to open the main hotel in 2013,
but that was called off. They reduced the number of guest rooms from
3,000 to 150. Still, nothing. To this day the Ryugyong Hotel remains unfinished-
perhaps based on a nice idea, but ultimately a 105 story, mysterious, authoritarian-looking,
empty construction. Like the rest of North Korea, a source of
endless open questions and peculiarities for people you and me. 6 kilometers, or 3.7 miles away lies an actual
operating hotel, the Yanggakdo International. This one actually has guests, rooms, even
a nameless North Korean Draft Beer you can order. A night here runs about $350 US Dollars. And it was in this hotel that this grainy
footage was purportedly taken. A shadowy figure approaches, takes something
off the wall, and sets it down. If you were to get in the Yanggakdo Hotel
elevator you have access to 47 floors. Well- 46- you can see in this picture the
count goes 1,2,3,4,6- the fifth floor being staff-only and despite having a couple videos
snuck out showing dark hallways with propaganda posters, we don’t know the purpose of any
of it. Supposedly, that’s what is being taken from
the wall is this video: a North Korean propaganda poster from the fifth floor of the Yanggakdo
Hotel. The authorities claim that the shadowy figure
is Otto Warmbier, a visiting American Student from Ohio. He was there with the help of Young Pioneer
Tours, a chinese company which organizes travel to places ‘your mother would rather you
stayed away from’. Though we’re not sure ‘how’, or ‘why’,
or even ‘if’ Warmbier did what they accused him of doing, the story goes like this: during
his winter visit to North Korea in late 2015, Otto Warmbier stayed in the Yanggakdo Hotel
in Pyongyang. While staying there, he made his way to the
staff-only 5th floor, took down a propaganda poster which read, “Let’s arm ourselves
strongly with Kim Jong-il’s patriotism”. He was arrested on January 2nd, 2016 at the
Pyongyang Airport as he tried to leave the country. The evidence of this crime: the grainy, shadowy
video. And something more sinister to go along with
it. I’m going to show you footage from Warmbier’s
press conference 2 months after his arrest in North Korea in which he addresses accusations
that he’s ‘Committed Hostile Acts Against the State’. Now we can doubt the legitimacy of this statement
on a number of grounds. The first being that many foreign detainees
before Warmbier have recounted their statements once released from North Korea. Second, it’s apparent to me that the statement
was written by a non-native speaker of English and given to Warmbier to memorize. I say that because there’s no contractions
in the entire statement, ‘wouldn’t’ becomes ‘would not’,‘can’t’ is always
‘cannot’, and the phrasing and vocabulary are just weird. Take a listen. Add on to the odd phrasing the ludicrous circumstances
Otto describes as his motivations. Namely, that the mother of of a friend of
his from Ohio wanted him to ‘damage the spirit of Korean workers’ by stealing a
sign with a slogan on it and bringing it back to Ohio so they could hang it up in the Methodist
church as an anti-communist trophy. It was a leap year and Warmbier’s trial
was February 29th, 2016 before North Korea’s Supreme Court.That is the topic I want to
go a little bit deeper with: North Korea’s peculiar Judicial System. It was the DPRK’s Supreme Court which tried
Warmbier, and that’s because it is the court of first instance in situations with criminal
acts against the nation, particularly when foreigners are involved. And their decisions are final. There is no appeal process as the Supreme
Court, at certain times called the Central Court, is the highest court of appeals. Below it are 12 provincial courts, usually
paneled by three judges, which have initial jurisdiction for grievous crimes, and which
otherwise serve as the final court of appeal for the 100 People’s Courts which come below. They’re called People’s Court because
they usually are presided over by a single judge with two civilian assessors to oversee
the decisionmaking. They’re organized at the County level and
have jurisdiction over everyday civil disputes and criminal justice (NYU Law). The North Korean state was founded on Marxist-Leninist
ideology with heavy influence from Stalin’s Russia and Mao’s China. And as such, a Marxist might see a western
justice system as a repression from the bourgeoisie upon the working proletariat. The North Korean solution to this was to use
law as a hammer to nail state policy into society (Goedde, 2008). The People’s assessors, laymen oversight
in a court of law, is a staple of Communist Justice Systems. Along the same line, judges are able not only
to give punishment to the convicted, but to subject them to ‘reeducation’ programs
highlighting the value of the worker’s party and the dictatorship of the proletariat (Goedde,
2008). Overshadowing these outside influences is
North Korea’s first Supreme Leader Kim Il-Sung’s personal ideology called ‘Juche’. Loosely translated as ‘self-reliance’,
‘Juche’ mixes Nationalism into Communist ideology in order to focus on three things:
National independence, economic self-sustenance, and national defense. Shortly put, this is how the regime aimed
to justify their cult of personality that’s lasted into the present era: follow me so
we can achieve communism in our own Korean way. Juche was first incorporated into the North
Korean Constitution in 1972. In her work, Law “Of Our Own Style”, Dr.
Patricia Goedde describes 5 consequences Juche had for the North Korean Judicial System
“First, the law reflects the wishes and interests of the working people (the dominant
class). Second, the law is a State instrument. Third, citizens and all organizations have
the duty to obey the law (as opposed to having legal rights against the State). Fourth, socialist law shall be perfected (eschewing
bourgeois law), and, lastly, socialist law-abiding life shall be promoted (making the observance
of law a moral obligation).” In this system, national sovereignty is paramount
and the laws are a tool to that effect. Both laws and rights emanate directly from
the state, and by not leading a ‘socialist law-abiding life’, you forfeit your rights. Because the laws exist to protect the state
and not the rights of citizens, the Judiciary is not independent. The Supreme Court of North Korea doesn’t
exercise judicial review over the new laws, it doesn’t provide precedents for constitutionality
of executive actions- rather than acting as a check, it merely serves as an additional
rubber stamp for the regime. The entire court system is accountable to
the Supreme People’s Assembly, the legislature of North Korea. When the Supreme People’s Assembly is in
recess (most of the time), the courts are accountable to the much smaller Presidium
of the Supreme People’s Assembly. Now stay with me, all candidates to the Supreme
People’s Assemblies are pre approved by the Korean Worker’s Party, which is controlled
by the Chairman of the party- who is, you guessed it, Kim Jong-un, Supreme Leader of
the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Supreme Leader controls the Worker’s Party,
controls the Assembly, controls the courts. Everything from the smallest theft to an Internationally
watched show trial of a foreigner is under direct supervision. This likely explains the speculation that
Otto Warmbier’s arrest was a response to international sanctions against North Korea. By arresting an American citizen, they gained
just the smallest bit of leverage in a geopolitical game stacked heavily against them. Hence, the showmanship and the scripted apology: Now under the auspices of a Supreme Court
Justice and by extension, the entire North Korean power structure, the only thing left
for Otto Warmbier was sentencing. Even with the United States Administration
demanding, “…the North Korean government to pardon [Warmbier] and grant him special
amnesty and immediate release,”, he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. But ‘where?’. I’m going to use some subjective terminology
with you in the rest of the video, but I think it’s justified justified: North Korean prison
camps are horrible places full of starvation, inhumane conditions, torture, public executions,
sexual assault, and forced abortions. According to eye-witness testimony from defectors
and satellite imagery, it is estimated that there are between 150,000 and 200,000 political
prisoners in North Korea spread across 6 political prison camps, though this information is always
in flux due to the secrecy of the regime. Another series of 15-20 reeducation camps
are run by by the Ministry of People’s Security. A report by the National Commission of Human
Rights of Korea states that, “[Political Prison Camps] can be generalized into two
types. The first is the ‘maximum security camp’
or ‘total control zone,’ in which prisoners are detained for life. The second category, the ‘high-security
camp,’ or ‘revolutionary zone,’ consists of detention areas from which prisoners are
released after having served a set prison term.” In addition, generational imprisonment, though
less common today than in the past, is still practiced:“The government practices collective
punishment, sending to forced labor camps not only the offender but also their parents,
spouse, children, and even grandchildren.” (2012 Human Rights Report). Amnesty International became aware of a case
in which a child was contained for 243 days inside what they called, “a tiny ‘torture
cell”’ where it is impossible to stand or lie down.” Another common torture is so-called, ‘Pigeon
torture’ in which a detainee is suspended with their arms behind their center and are
then hit repeatedly. Every escapee with whom Amnesty International
spoke “witnessed at least one public execution”. In 2002, the New York Times reported interviews
with 35 escapees, “31 said they had witnessed babies killed by abandonment or being smothered
with plastic sheets. Two defectors later described burying dead
babies, and two said they were mothers who saw their newborns put to death,” A 2014 UN Human Rights Council report stated,
“hundreds of thousands of political prisoners have perished in these camps over the past
five decades. The unspeakable atrocities that are being
committed against inmates of the kwanliso political prison camps resemble the horrors
of camps that totalitarian States established during the twentieth century.” Add to all this the weak North Korean Judiciary
we discussed earlier. According to the US State Department Human
Rights Report, “Members of the security forces arrested and reportedly transported
citizens suspected of committing political crimes to prison camps without trial. The UN Human Rights Report backs this up:
“Persons who are found to have engaged in major political crimes are “disappeared”,
without trial or judicial order, to political prison camps,” In addition, forced confessions are the norm. Preliminary investigations are often full
of torture; false statements of guilt are coerced to stop the violence. And the kind of crimes for which you can thrown
into a political prison camp are very broad. As The Committee for Human Rights in Korea
put it, “…presumed political, ideological, and sociological deviants deported to and
imprisoned in the labor camps include persons suspected of wrong-doing… being on the “wrong”
or losing side of a bureaucratic, factional, or political dispute within the Korean Workers’
Party…wrong-thinking includes expressing or supporting ideas at variance with the official
ideology…wrong-association is being part of a family…whose patriarch was part of
a purged faction of the Korean Worker’s Party….wrong-class,” having anything to
do with private property or land-owning. As you might imagine, a system like this also
leads to the imprisonment of many ‘unwanteds’ from society. Consider then, know what we know about the
conditions of the camps from a variety of sources- consider being sent there guilty
of no real crime. What became of Otto Warmbier? As of the making of this video it remains
unclear. He does have an advantage over native North
Korean prisoners. There’s no incentive for the government
to keep its native prisoners alive, and it’s estimated 40% of inmates die from malnutrition
(Amnesty International). But as an American detainee, he’s a more
valuable bargaining chip for the North Korean government if he’s kept in relatively good
health. This is evidenced by other American detainees
released early after being given heavy and long labor sentences; most after around 150
days. There could be a similar case for Otto Warmbier. But there’s no guarantee. A south Korean-American Kenneth Bae was held
735 days and was sent to a labor camp during that time. Robert Park, a christian minister was arrested
in 2010 and was tortured in 3 different labor camps before being released 43 days later. And if you’re keeping track, Otto Warmbier
was arrested January 2nd, 2016, which means he’s already way beyond the average imprisonment
for American detainees. It’s absolutely possible he’s been sent
to a labor camp, though if Kenneth Bae is any precedent, he’s alone, guarded by a
team and escorted daily for work, as Bae was briefly allowed to explain to CNN
in an interview he gave during his time in guard, and there’s one doctor,”
We can’t know if Warmbier is receiving similar treatment. Since his trial, Otto’s family has received
only one letter from him. “On April 23 Ri Su Yong, North Korea’s foreign
minister, defended jailing Mr Warmbier but suggested that, as with past detainees, he
may not serve his full sentence.” (The Telegraph). And let me pause just for a second to clear
something up with you. I use Warmbier as a way of bringing you into
this story, but don’t think that this is an attempt to micro focus on American victims. All of the thousands of Koreans- real people-
living through excruciating conditions right now in the North Korean detention camps deserve
a fair justice system. While western leaders stress over Pyongyang’s
nuclear program, while South Korea low balls the cost of reunification, while China embarrasses
itself by handing political refugees back to the North Korean authority knowing full
well they’ll end up in these detention centers- while all that’s going on, human crisis
occurs everyday behind the barbed wire of North Korea’s death camps every single day,
and we shouldn’t forget it. I think, however, it’s important to just
take a step back from the geopolitical pressures- to acknowledge the hundreds of thousands of
Korean victims of the broken judicial system, and to recognize that it, like the Democratic
People’s Republic of Korea is ultimately a doomed, mysterious, authoritarian, and empty

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100 thoughts on “What is the North Korean Prison System like?

  1. They didn’t even have 100 percent proof that he was the one who took the poster off the wall and the poor boy was petrified and clearly whatever he was saying was scripted. He was young and curious and this time the saying “ curiosity killed the cat “ is absolutely true.May he rest in peace.

  2. I must say, your narrative is beyond impressive! Crime show host Narrator Bill Kurtis ( which was truy the best
    in his prime in my lame opnion ) has nothing on you my friend! Cheers!

  3. The citizens are being held captive and forced to worship a douchebag.. It's a sad situation and needs to be aggressively addressed 😎

  4. The beer is called Taedonggang. It's named after the Taedong River in Pyeongyang. You can drink this beer in South Korea as well.

  5. Ok let’s not forget how if it’s not your wall you’re not supposed to take stuff down from it. Idk why he did this but he knew he was in North Korea and knew that they are less tolerant to misconduct than the us is. He shouldn’t even spit on the sidewalk. Not just there but any foreign country you visit. Show respect and you’ll be fine anywhere

  6. This video should be updated. Otto went into a coma, was sent back to the states whilst in a vegetative state, he ended up dying a few months later (his parents pulled the plug).

  7. Sounds like AMERIKKKA! Especially, when they're trying and sentencing the 1.2 million people of color to horrid prison conditions.


  8. Considering the information that was NOT supplied in this video, (ClickBait) I'd hazard a guess that they are pretty good compared to what I have seen, read and told of American Prisons. Now, America is where you have serious human rights violations. But then, where there is a dollar to be made, who cares about human rights, unless of course, it's another countries.. Point the finger and there are three pointing back at you..

  9. That kid was too young and too stupid to go to North Korea ! If you want to go to North Korea , you have to prepare to kill those mother fuckers , but not to pay them money so they can kill you !!! N Korea – This is a war zone country !

  10. Otto should've not stolen a poster. If you go there, you abide by their rules. He did it, he unfortunately died. Trump tried to save him, Obama did fuck all.

  11. It really doesn’t matter if he even sentenced for walking there it doesn’t matter why people don’t get the point? You know the rules end of story it’s their rules good or bad you follow their rules this is the problem with Americans you can hate me for this comment but you think you can go to another country do what hell you want and not pay for your actions that’s what I call hypocrite kill people in Middle East make wars that shouldn’t happen and when someone hurt one of you all go crazy I feel sorry for this kid but come on man it’s Korea rules he knew it too because he was walking slow sneaking he knew it’s wrong but he thought he will get away and even if he gets caught he is American no one can touch him I’m sorry guys don’t mean to offend anyone but that’s facts and that’s the true

  12. Why does it seem curious that North Korea is currently so aggressively maligned ? Not without cause or reason to be sure,
    just interesting I guess.

  13. If only Kim was mayor of Portland, San Francisco or any other Liberal pothole. Cause ya know… Trump is such a terrible dictator, and capitalist America is so stifling to its citizens.

  14. What I found really interesting about the footage of ‘Otto Warmbier’ stealing the poster is how careful and respectfully the person in the video puts down the poster onto the ground. If Otto was brave enough to try and steal the poster without fully knowing the gravity of his action he’d not going to be so cautious putting the poster on the floor as most people would chuck it to the ground, or rip it from the wall or put it under their armpit.. why put it down on the floor against the lower wall instead of letting it fall to the ground?

  15. Naive Tourist , Why and How could any country , government ,state or Dictatorship treat a visitor who wants to learn about the people and cultural of the Country ,be treated like ' a Pig eating from the graves of the war Hero,s ' … Sad F in SAD.Z

  16. If this man(Kim Jung Un) is this kind of leader, why would any other leader (of an up standing country ), want to associate with him.

  17. I dont know why anyone would go there,political or charity,if they go,there on there own for me. Let them live there life

  18. DPRK = travesty of anything even remotely resembling civilization! The commie bastards need to be nuked and the fat fuck and the regime that "run things" there must be roasted over a slow fire till they die… or be subjected to scaphism!

  19. This is the most awful, inhumane regime that ever existed in human history.
    That guy, Kim il sung, the creator of this hell on earth was an evil genious..
    May he rest in real hell now))
    FUCK north korea!!!👎

  20. All people in North Korea 🇰🇵 are prisoners… coz you can’t go out anywhere in the world their lock up in their own land.


  22. There are no human right in marxism. Its the most foolish uneducated phrase in the fight for human life. No prez including trump seems to understand this. Marxism is running the democrat party. It is life and death

  23. What a joke of country…so America ,russa,china and other strong states joust talk nothin want tu du about this ….what a joke of Planet

  24. didnt he get realeased back to the US and died within the week due to health implications belived to of been caused in the NK camps

  25. They should take out the puppet kin yung un!! No ody dares take the bully out even though the US did get Saddam Hussein who is just as bad as the NK mug!!

  26. Wow his speech in court was sadly staged. They must of threatened him and it sounds like something the North Koreans would say to their own people to keep them in their place, so to continue to segregate them from the rest of the world.

  27. If NK was an oil producing country, it would’ve been invaded by the west and the people set free a long time ago lol

  28. I know how he feels in the State of Florida they over sentence young black men every single day ..They treat Americans the same way America has treated blacks for years .

  29. If any war that would be justified would be liberating North Korea and returning the rest of Korea to the south. Fuck North Korea man.

  30. There's no justice in lots of countries even in Canada people are sadistic cruel liars dishonorable cawords who don't care about a human being life they sacrifice you without thinking about it cause they don't give a shit about anything else but their egotistical needs exseed everything but the truth Canadian people prove they are what they are by behavior they can say whatever they want but they show what they are made of by doing this to someone who never did anything wrong to anyone

  31. if america had this, well our lives wouldn't be going down as much as they are…. criminals here get free room and board have to be somewhat treated well and 3 free meals a day while our government and states get money for housing a prisoner they get electric and are pampered that's why it isn't shit to do 15 years in US cause were too light

  32. OMG that forced confession! It's not funny but I almost involuntarily laugh at the ludicrous crap coming out of his mouth. Yeah the Methodist Church "gave him his crime-task". So he packed his "quietest boots". Right

  33. Unites states justice system isn't perfect either. the average person doesn't ever see a trial and takes a plea bargain based on a a threat of an inflated prison sentence. This has led to the US imprisoning more people per capita than any other country on earth , including North Korea.

    I wouldnt trade it for anything else out there though. just saying…

  34. Next time tell us about the president of arabia SAUDI. mohammad bin SALMAN and tell us. What he did with the
    The pieces. Of body. JAMAL KHASHOGGY ..

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