Seoul: North Korean prisoners are forced to drink river water which contains the ashes of their dead fellow inmates and all for the crime of watching a foreign soap opera. The horrific reality of life within Kim Jong-un’s gulags was exposed by former prisoners who survived the living nightmare of Chongori concentration camp. It’s a camp where North Koreans can find themselves locked up for acts as innocuous as watching South Korean TV or following the Christian faith.
One former prisoner recalled: ‘Every Monday, we burned the corpses… there’s a place that looked like a house, and we piled the corpses in the round tank in it. ‘The facility was drenched in the smell of blood and rotting or burning corpses. ‘After burning the corpses, they stacked up ashes next to the cremation site. The ashes were used as compost for farming. ‘When it rained, the ashes flowed into the river, and the prisoners drank the river water and used it to shower.’ They also recalled how, on rainy days, when the wood got wet, bodies would not burn as well. A former prisoner even found themselves tripping over disembodied toes.
They revealed that the bodies of dead prisoners were piled in a storeroom prior to cremation, where they would be partially eaten by rats and decay would set in. As many as 5,000 people are imprisoned there, with some 60% incarcerated for illegally crossing the border while the other 40% are being punished for offences like watching foreign TV. Inmates are used as slave labour, with women manufacturing wigs and false eyelashes, and raising livestock, while men are put to work manufacturing furniture, mining copper and processing ore. One former prisoner estimated that, during his eight months of detention at Chongori, 800 fellow inmates died as a result of hard labour and malnutrition.