An estimated 150 thousand to 200 thousand persons are believed to be held in detention camps in remote areas [of North Korea], including for political reasons.
NGO, refugee, and press reports indicated that there were several types of camps, and separate camps reportedly existed for political prisoners. Using commercial satellite imagery to bolster their assertions about the existence of the camps and point out their main features, defectors claimed the camps covered areas as large as 200 square miles. The camps contained mass graves, barracks, work sites, and other prison facilities. The government continued to deny the existence of political prison camps.
The government considered critics of the regime to be political criminals. Reports from past years described political offenses as including sitting on newspapers bearing Kim Il Sung’s picture, mentioning Kim Il Sung’s limited formal education, or defacing photographs of the Kims.
Collective punishment reportedly was practiced in the past. Entire families, including children, have been imprisoned when one member of the family was accused of a crime.
According to refugees, in some places of detention prisoners were given little or no food and were denied medical care. Sanitation was poor, and refugees who escaped from labor camps continued to report that they were rarely able to bathe or wash their clothing, nor were they given changes of clothing during months of incarceration.
— Excerpts from a U.S. State Department’s Human Rights report, on North Korea