It’s bad for Kenneth Bae, but it could be worse, according to people familiar with the workings of one of the world’s most secretive and repressive regimes.
“These are not really camps like the political prison camps used for the North Korean people,” said Kang Chol-hwan, a survivor of North Korean gulags, who was sent to a prison camp at age 9 because his uncle had insulted the government. “If Kenneth Bae was really sent to a prison camp, he would not survive and that would not be good for the Kim regime.
“Normally a person dies in three years after being sent to a real camp,” added Kang, who was released from the Yodok prison in 1992 after enduring brutal conditions for a decade.
Andrei Lankov, a Seoul-based North Korea expert, said being held in a special camp actually bodes well for Bae.
“This prison will be isolated (no interaction with normal prisoners) and quite comfortable,” he said. “Had they said the guy is going to be in a “normal” prison camp, it would most probably mean he would never be allowed to get out alive!
“This statement indicates he has a fairly high chance of being released in due time,” Lankov added.
Experts said North Korea is likely planning to use Bae to leverage aid or concessions from the West, or simply in an effort to raise its stature by appearing to be humanitarian when it ultimately frees him.
“North Korea, by having a show trial and causing all this tension in the international media, will be preparing for big negotiations with the United States,” said Kang, who wrote about his experience in a memoir titled, “The Aquariums of Pyongyang.”
Bae was arrested in November and accused of trying to establish an anti-Pyongyang base in the North. But Bae’s friends say he worked as a Christian missionary in Dalian, a Chinese city near the North Korean border, and that he crossed the border to bring food to starving orphans.