Hard Labor
June 8, 2009 4:43 PM   Subscribe

The two journalists that were convicted in North Korea were sentenced to 12 years of hard labor. What does "hard labor" mean in this situation?
posted by josher71 to Society & Culture (12 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

In this precise situation, it means the N Korean government wants to make a show it's toughness before negotiating with the Obama administration to deport them to the US.

Scody has the answer for what it would mean if they were not citizens of such a powerful country.
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:52 PM on June 8, 2009

There was an interview on the Radio 4 PM programme about this topic today: here's the entire programme, the relevant section is about 46 minutes in. (May be available in the UK only)
posted by Electric Dragon at 4:53 PM on June 8, 2009

From scody's link above:

The most salient feature of day-to-day prison-labor camp life is the combination of below-subsistence food rations and extremely hard labor. Prisoners are provided only enough food to be kept perpetually on the verge of starvation. And prisoners are compelled by their hunger to eat, if they can get away with it, the food of the labor-camp farm animals, plants, grasses, bark, rats, snakes — anything remotely edible. It should be noted that below-subsistence-level food rations preceded, by decades, the severe nationwide food shortages experienced by North Korea in the 1990s.

Many of the kwan-li-so involve mining for coal, iron deposits, gold, or various other ores, or logging and wood-cutting in the adjacent mountains. Prisoners undertake farm labor during planting and harvesting seasons. This back-breaking labor is often performed twelve or more hours per day, seven days per week, with time off only for national holidays (such as New Year’s Day and Kim Il Sung’s and Kim Jong Il’s birthdays, for example).

posted by ecab at 4:54 PM on June 8, 2009

The Today Show was running video footage (stock?) of a North Korean prison this morning which showed a crew shoulder hauling 8' logs from one side of the yard to the other endlessly. (Work gang begins @ 2:37.) For all intents and purposes, "hard labor" translates roughly into "Living Hell".
posted by EnsignLunchmeat at 5:03 PM on June 8, 2009

The US State Department's 2008 report on human rights in North Korea:

"NGO, refugee, and press reports indicated that there were several types of prisons, detention centers, and camps, including forced labor camps and separate camps for political prisoners. Defectors claimed the camps covered areas as large as 200 square miles. The camps appeared to contain mass graves, barracks, worksites, and other prison facilities.

"Those sentenced to prison for nonpolitical crimes were typically sent to reeducation prisons where prisoners were subjected to intense forced labor. Those who were considered hostile to the regime or who committed political crimes, such as defection, were sent to political prison camps indefinitely. Many prisoners in political prison camps were not expected to survive. The government continued to deny the existence of political prison camps.

"Reports indicated that conditions in the political prison camps were harsh. Systematic and severe human rights abuses occurred throughout the prison and detention system. Detainees and prisoners consistently reported violence and torture. According to refugees, in some places of detention, prisoners received little or no food and were denied medical care. Sanitation was poor, and former labor camp inmates reported they had no changes of clothing during their incarceration and were rarely able to bathe or wash their clothing.

"The government did not permit inspection of prisons or detention camps by human rights monitors."


"The penal code prohibits torture or inhumane treatment; however, many sources continued to confirm their practice. Methods of torture and other abuse reportedly included severe beatings; electric shock; prolonged periods of exposure to the elements; humiliations such as public nakedness; confinement for up to several weeks in small 'punishment cells' in which prisoners were unable to stand upright or lie down; being forced to kneel or sit immobilized for long periods; being hung by the wrists; being forced to stand up and sit down to the point of collapse; and forcing mothers recently repatriated from China to watch the infanticide of their newborn infants. Defectors continued to report that many prisoners died from torture, disease, starvation, exposure to the elements, or a combination of these causes."
posted by Jaltcoh at 5:12 PM on June 8, 2009

They're the same as what they were in Europe in WWII. My baba was in a forced labor camp in Poland for 39 months and spent 20 hours a day digging graves and cutting down trees., among other things. It's a living nightmare, anyway one looks at it.
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 5:15 PM on June 8, 2009

I'm not sure if this is the kind of camp such prisoners would be sent to, but:

Born and Raised In a Concentration Camp
posted by Erberus at 5:15 PM on June 8, 2009

Here's a book about one man's ten years in a North Korean hard labor camp: The Aquariums of Pyongyang.
posted by ocherdraco at 6:20 PM on June 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

For what it's worth, the Japanese media translated their sentence as "労働教化", which essentially means "education through labor."

A news item about the sentence noted: "Education through labor is North Korea's version of penal labor [the standard sentence in Japan]. [The pair] will be sent to an "education facility" equivalent to a prison and forced to perform heavy labor at factories [and other facilities]." ("労働教化刑は北朝鮮の懲役刑で、刑務所に当たる教化所に送られ、工場などで重労働を強いられる。")
posted by armage at 8:50 PM on June 8, 2009

First: I live in South Korea. Most educated South Koreans that I've talked to about this, including one person who has travelled to Pyongyang on business, believe that these women won't end up in a prison camp. It's more likely, they think, that they'll end up in a hotel until the US negotiates their release. This is so because it would be stupid to put them in a prison camp only to release them later. These women are journalists; what would you expect them to do once they're released? This, of course, presumes that they'll be released, but that's their analysis, which is almost certainly more informed than the American media's, which can't be bothered to pronounce "Pyongyang" correctly half the time.
posted by smorange at 7:12 AM on June 9, 2009

Gotta agree with smorange on this one. North Korea's internal concentration camp system is truly ghastly, but embarrassing enough to the regime that foreigners would not be admitted unless it was essentially certain that they would never be released. Even in that case, it would be unlikely that a foreigner would be admitted to the general population, as their knowledge of the outside world would be seen as a source of potential ideological contamination for those they come in contact with. While the two will probably be given some kind of busy work to do, it is more likely that they will be housed at a 'guest villa' a la Charles Jenkins and treated at a relatively high humanitarian standard: good food, no beatings, and so on... at least for as long as North Korea perceives that the United States is interested in their welfare and release.
posted by monocyte at 8:30 AM on June 9, 2009

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