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[Update 11 Feb 07: North Korea denies it]
Sources residing in the district of Chongjin, North Hamkyung informed on the 1st and 5th “On December 20th, a mass group of 120 prisoners from the camp in Hwasung escaped and so the National Safety Agency and the People’s Protection Agency are in a state of emergency” and said “Lately, additional checkpoints have been established at various locations in North Hamkyung inspecting permits for both vehicle and personal travel.
In the history of North Korea, there has only been one known incident like this one — the mass uprising at Onsong, Camp Number 12, in 1987, when 5,000 people were killed. The punishment for escape is death, and former guards claim that they were offered generous bounties for killing escaping prisoners.
One source said “A close acquaintance and officer from the Safety Agency told me that some prisoners had ran away from a political concentration camp in Hwasung. The source informed “The figure seems to exceed 120 people” and “since the end of last year, the atmosphere in North Hamkyung has been tense and the province has been in a state of emergency.
The prisoners did this by cutting the wire and clubbing a guard, and when they got out, someone outside was there with at least one getaway car. The regime’s security forces have put up numerous roadblocks to try to recapture the prisoners. They have reportedly recaptured 21 of them, who are virtually certain to face a firing squad. Elsewhere, the report suggests that others were recaptured in China.
The significance of this, if true, is proof of the existence of an organized underground inside North Korea. As you will see below, Hwasong is a very long walk from China. Without help from an underground, these people would have had nowhere to go; they would all have been recaptured or killed almost immediately. If around 100 prisoners were still at large weeks after the fact, or made it at least as far as China, someone must have helped, hidden, and fed them.
Further, on the day of escape, one prisoner visited his home in Chongjin, North Hamkyung to escape with his family but was arrested by border guards while in attempt.
It’s a safe bet that this entire family was arrested.
I discovered Camp 16 accidentally, while google-earthing North Korea recently. I stumbled upon it because it’s not far from Musudan-ri, the place from which North Korea did its missile tests last July.
Snooping through the mountains, I saw this, and soon realized what I was looking at.
Wanting to confirm my judgment, I went to David Hawk’s photographic exhibits from “The Hidden Gulag,” and confirmed that the latitude and longitude were a match. I followed this fence line for the entire perimeter, and realized that this place is gargantuan.
It measures 18 miles by 16 miles. That’s nearly
half the size of the state of Rhode Island [Correction: a quarter of the size of the state of Rhode Island, and more than four times the size of the District of Columbia]. That jagged yellow line that cuts off the northwest corner is the Chinese border.
Closer in, the fence line is clearly visible. I marked the guard posts, which are only faintly visible until you zoom in to a lower altitude.
Here are two of the larger groups of barracks in Camp 16:
Here’s the camp’s South gate:
According to the story, the camp holds 10,000 prisoners. They could be there for anything from the expression of dissent, to finding themselves on the wrong side of a factional dispute, to being the wife or child of someone who said the wrong thing one day.
Survivors of these camps report that each year, about 20 to 25% of the prisoners die.
Men. Women. Kids.