Satellites Show North Korea's Prison Camps Expanding Under Kim Jong-Un

Philip Bump
The Atlantic Wire

An analysis of satellite images suggests that at least one North Korean prison camp has been significantly expanded over the past decade, including since the death of former premier Kim Jong-Il. The analysis, conducted by the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK), focuses on Camp 25, tucked in the northeastern corner of the country.

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Since 2003, HRNK has tracked the camp's slow, continuous growth. Thanks to the recent addition of such landmarks to Google Maps, it's easy to find: Chongjin Gulag, just outside of Ch'ongjin.

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Compare that Google satellite image with how the camp looked in 2003:

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The Telegraph summarizes HRNK's findings: the camp grew 72 percent between 2003 and 2010; the number of perimeter guard posts more than doubled. In the 2013 analysis — the first since Kim Jong-Un rose to power — the primary change is an addition of guard posts and some buildings.

Last month, the New York Times reported on North Korea's increased focus on preventing emigration, with authorities jamming cellphone signals and increasing patrols near the China/North Korea border. The Kim Jong-Un regime has also reportedly ousted a number of high-ranking officials of uncertain loyalties. Both moves necessarily mean more prisoners of the state.

HRNK's analysis, while thorough, still has an air of inexactitude. It's guesswork — easier than trying to determine an imminent nuke test, but still an approximation. That North Korea now allows Instagram photos of North Korean food and welcomes people like Dennis Rodman and Eric Schmidt is interesting but not revealing. It's what's hidden in its far, quiet corners that deserves more consideration.

Read the full report from the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea below.

North Korea's Camp No. 25 by