North Korean exiles describe bravery of believers in “re-education” death camps in face of torturous conditions, amid “pile of corpses”

14 December 2020

Exiles interviewed by the London-based campaign group, Korea Future Initiative, revealed that Christians sent to North Korean “re-education” camps for the “crime” of their faith endure regular beatings, torture and starvation.

One respondent said they were fed only a soup made of water, salt and sand. Those forced to labour in the camp’s fields received a soup containing liquefied grass and corn-flour to thicken it. “Prisoners caught picking and eating grass from the field were beaten with a shovel,” the respondent added.

Christian prisoners often suffer the harshest punishments in North Korea's prison camps and detention centres. A woman heard her husband cry out as he was tortured, "Why is it a crime to believe in God?" [Image credit: Korea Future Initiative]

One prisoner who endured three years in a camp weighed just 27kg (59lbs) on their release and suffered lasting kidney damage.

Prisoners live alongside “pile of corpses”

Death rates are high among prisoners and corpses were burned every three days, according to a camp survivor. “The cremated body ash was scattered on the field and the whole field was black when it rained in the summer because the body oils resurfaced,” they said. “When they planted spinach, it would grow thick and tall.”

Survivors remain mentally scarred by the cruelty they suffered and saw. “These experiences remain with me as trauma. I have nightmares in the middle of the night … The memory of living among a pile of corpses is still there.”

Brave believers helped other prisoners despite risk of punishment

Despite the torture and violence suffered by Christian prisoners, courageous believers helped support others, even though they knew that discovery would result in a severe beating. One interviewee recalled how a Christian prisoner told her, “God had sent me here for you.” The respondent said, “Eventually I listened to her … she was a light that came and warmed me when I was drowning in my sorrow … I would have killed myself if it were not for her.”

Related Countries

North Korea