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.
“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.
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.
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.
“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.
“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.
Reported by Hyemin Son for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Dukin Han. Written in English by Richard Finney.