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Convenience Store In North Korean Prison Exploits Convicts, Family Members

Prison authorities are failing to address the growing numbers of prisoners suffering from illness and malnutrition at Kaecheon, the source said.

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watches the launch of a Hwasong-12 missile in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency, Sept. 16, 2017. VOA

Guards at a prison camp in North Korea have recently enlarged a convenience store attached to the facility, pressuring inmates’ relatives to spend money there to purchase food and medicine formerly brought in for free, sources in the country say.

The new store at the Kaecheon Correctional Labor Camp in South Pyongan province was opened at the end of last year following a surge in the prison’s incarceration rate, a source in South Pyongan told RFA’s Korean Service.

“The store is now crowded with visitors each day, and is being used as a way to exploit family members of the inmates and suck the money out of them,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

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“They are not allowed to bring in food or other necessities, so they are forced to make those purchases from the convenience store,” the source said.

Employees at the store are family members of the prison’s officials, the source said, adding, “And they abuse their authority by selling things like alcohol and cigarettes at much higher prices than they could get by selling them at street markets” outside the facility.

“Visitors are afraid that their loved ones inside the prison could suffer badly if they complain about the ridiculous prices, so they reluctantly make their purchases at the convenience store,” he said.

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A train transporting dozens of South Korean officials runs on the rails which leads to North Korea, inside the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas in Paju, South Korea. VOA

Prison officials also pressure inmates to ask family members visiting the store to buy expensive items such as solar batteries, razors, office paper and other supplies, “falsely claiming that these things are needed for common use in the facility,” the source said.

Severe conditions

Inmates who fail to deliver the demanded goods are often beaten or receive other kinds of punishment during bed-checks at night, he said.

Also speaking to RFA, a source in Ryanggang province said he had gone to Kaecheon after hearing that his brother, an inmate at the prison, was suffering from malnutrition there.

“When I arrived, I was told that visits were allowed only once per quarter, and they refused to allow me into the visitors’ room,” the source said, also speaking on condition he not be named.

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A prison camp in North Korea’s South Pyongan province is shown in an undated photo., AsiaExpress

“I got frustrated, and argued with them when I was told that I should just buy food at the convenience store and send that in,” he said.

“I couldn’t bear their attitude which cares only about their business dealings at the store, while they reject visitors’ requests to see their family members inside the prison, so they can hide the severe conditions at the facility and stop the spreading of rumors about it.”

Prison authorities are failing to address the growing numbers of prisoners suffering from illness and malnutrition at Kaecheon, the source said.

Also Read: Human Rights Situation in North Korea Needs Reforms

“Instead, they would rather call up the inmates’ families and demand that they bring in medicine and food.”

Inmates’ families can now help save the lives of their loved ones in the prison by sending in a mixture of corn flour, sugar, and oil put into a meal, RFA’s source said.

“And they can do this only by purchasing these things directly from the convenience store,” he said. (Radio Free Asia)

Next Story

North Korea Bans Imports of Chinese Pork on Fears of African Swine Fever Epidemic

“North Koreans prefer Chinese pork to domestically produced pork, because it has thicker layers of meat and fat,” said the source

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chinese pork, african swine fever
The import ban seems to have had no effect on the price of pork, making the source believe that Chinese pork is still getting in. Wikimedia Commons

North Korean authorities have banned imports of Chinese pork as an African swine fever (ASF) epidemic rages north of the Yalu River border between the two countries.

According to the latest update from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, China has seen 138 ASF outbreaks since August 2018 and more than a million pigs have been culled since the initial outbreak in Liaoning province, which borders North Korea.

North Korea’s ministry of agriculture confirmed the country’s first ASF outbreak in Chagang province on May 23 and South Korea’s ministry of unification has proposed discussions on how the two Koreas can work together to stop the further spread of the disease.

But RFA sources in North Korea say Chinese pork is still being sold in local markets. “A few days ago I heard from a customs official that North Korea has completely blocked all imports of pork and beef from China to prevent the spread of African swine fever,” said a source from North Hamgyong province in an interview with RFA’s Korean Service on June 2.

chinese pork, african swine fever
Pigs stand in a barn at a pig farm in Jiangjiaqiao village in northern China’s Hebei province on May 8, 2019. Pork lovers worldwide are wincing at prices that have jumped by up to 40 percent as China’s struggle to stamp out African swine fever in its vast pig herds sends shockwaves through global meat markets. RFA

“North Koreans prefer Chinese pork to domestically produced pork, because it has thicker layers of meat and fat,” said the source. “I heard that in some areas, including Pyongyang and Sinuiju, they are trying to control pork sales, but no action has been taken yet in North Hamgyong,” said the source. The source said that the ban is quite rare, especially since diseases among livestock are common during this part of the year.

“There have been infectious swine diseases in the past, but they never banned the import of pork from China. At this time of year, we are usually hit with infectious swine diseases and many pigs are culled, but none of the residents bury the dead pigs,” the source said. The import ban seems to have had no effect on the price of pork, making the source believe that Chinese pork is still getting in.

“The price of pork is between 14 and 15 Chinese Yuan (slightly more than $2) per kilogram, which is the same as before the authorities banned Chinese pork. Even though customs authorities are blocking pork imports from China, there is so much pork being smuggled in,” the source said. Another source, also from North Hamgyong, said the ban is strange, given that North Korean customs officials generally follow the lead of their Chinese counterparts.

“On the first of the month, pork that was to be brought in from China was quarantined at North Korean customs and sent back. It is unusual for our customs office to block this pork shipment because it didn’t have any problem going through Chinese customs,” said the second source.

“That [particular] pork shipment was to be brought in by a Chinese citizen of Korean descent who is a restaurant owner in Rason,” the second source said. “He thought there would be no problem going through customs because he regularly brings in pork from China. But the Wonjong customs office did not let it pass through on orders from the Central Committee,” the second source said.

chinese pork, african swine fever
“North Koreans prefer Chinese pork to domestically produced pork, because it has thicker layers of meat and fat,” said the source. Wikimedia Commons

The second source said the restaurant owner was surprised his shipment was held back. “He has had no problem bringing in pork from China for several years now. Even when swine fever [started] spreading in China, he kept bringing it in. It’s the first time he has been stopped and he’s totally bewildered,” the second source said.

The second source said that the price of pork remains stable despite the ban, and no cases of ASF have been reported in Rason. Even so, residents have become fearful of the disease.

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“[They think] African swine fever is highly contagious and has a fatality rate of 100%, but Chinese pork is still being sold at the local markets and no restrictions have been announced,” said the second source. According to a USDA fact sheet, ASF is deadly only to domestic and feral pigs and does not affect humans. People can, however, spread the virus by coming in contact with the bodily fluids of infected livestock.

According to a source in South Pyongan province, North Korea has not culled pigs in any of its state-run farms where an ASF outbreak has occurred. The pigs instead were supplied to sausage factories at low cost. This has caused a flood of sausages to enter the market, cutting the price of sausage in half. (RFA)

Reported by Jieun Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.