GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 465 July 25, 2012


[“Good Friends” aims to help the North Korean people from a humanistic point of view and publishes “North Korea Today” describing the way the North Korean people live as accurately as possible. We at Good Friends also hope to be a bridge between the North Korean people and the world.]
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Military-Officers Arrested Last Year by Storm Troopers Imprisoned at the Defense Security Discipline Center
Many Return after Ideological Correction in Discipline Centers of the Defense Security Command
Officer Inmates are Able to Survive Thanks to Family Visits
Soldiers' Families are "Not even aware of their sons being sent to Discipline Centers"
Defense Security Command Orders: “If anyone attempts escape, shoot to kill”
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Military-Officers Arrested Last Year by Storm Troopers Imprisoned at the Defense Security Discipline Center
     Most of the military officers who were arrested last summer by the Storm trooper Command that swept through Ryangang Island and North Pyongan Province were sent to the discipline center of the Defense Security Command. At the time, security officers and policemen, as well as senior military officials, battalion commanders, company commanders, and platoon leaders were arrested at the border areas. They were arrested for illicit trafficking, river-crossing offenses, and anti-socialistic behaviors, and were investigated by the Defense Security Command.

The people who were able to elude imprisonment with enormous bribes and avoid being sent to the re-education center were instead sent mainly to the discipline center of Defense Security Command. In general, after spending 3 to 6 months in the discipline center, some people either went back to their hometown after being expelled from the Party and their jobs, or were reinstated to their job if their ideological remodeling is approved after evaluation. Offering more money to the Defense Security Command makes it easier to be reinstated.

Last year, however, the personnel were changed due to the new leadership, and so people were punished irrelevant to the gravity of their offense. A Central Party officer stated that among those arrested people from the Storm trooper's investigation, in general the main targets of the replacement operation were sent to re-education centers, while the rest were sent to the discipline center.


Many Return after Ideological Correction in Discipline Centers of the Defense Security Command
     A discipline center of the Defense Security Command is located in Kumya County, South Hamgyong province. It is a place which is directly managed by the Defense Security Command and where people are either reinstated after having undergone an intense ideological correction, or discharged into society after deinstitutionalization. Many people from National Border Patrol Headquarters-affiliated border patrol units, such as brigades, battalions, companies and platoons, go there after having been caught smuggling or exposed helping people cross the river. Besides them, convicts who, during their general military service, hurt farmers while stealing their produce, or convicts who have committed robberies in the mountains go there as well. Since the goal is the rebuilding of ideology, the time share devoted to ideological studies is large. In each work detail, an instructor with the rank of major is stationed who instructs the center’s inhabitants and oversees the labor. Days are a repetition of all-day labor from 4.30 in the morning until 9 o’clock in the evening, with 30 to 40 minutes of mealtime. After finishing the evening meal at 9 pm, political ideology is taught until 11.15 pm, the main content of the lessons being the greatness of The Great Leader Kim Il-Sung and Comrade Kim Jong-Il. Due to this repetition of only getting to bed after midnight and having to get up at 4.30 am, they all suffer greatly. There are many cases where high-ranking officers, in contrast to private soldiers, are rehabilitated. Whether it is because of this treatment is unclear, but they tend to display more enthusiasm for the ideology education lessons than private soldiers. Young non-commissioned officers aged 18-20 are generally reinstated in case the commanding officers of their units put in such a request.


Officer Inmates are Able to Survive Thanks to Family Visits
     One of the advantages given to officer inmates but not allowed to regular inmates is monthly visit by their family. According to the visiting regulations family visit is allowed only once every 6 months for soldiers, but the monthly visit is allowed solely for the officers. Some of the officers previously served in Border Defense Headquarters, who have good business skills can even receive food brought by visitors to supplement their meals. These people can receive these benefits by bribing the visiting room duty officer with money that was earned at the border area. However, this is only true for one out of ten people, and most officer inmates survive on corn power their wives bring to them once a month. The food at the discipline center consists merely of a powdered corn cob porridge and diluted seaweed soup with salt water; or sometimes bean-paste soup and pickled radish are available. Because of this scantiness, many people suffer from malnutrition. Medicine is not available when people become unwell; hence the family’s visit is desperately awaited. Since inmates normally do not receive any medical treatment, their wives, parents, or siblings bring them general medicine such as anti-diarrhea remedies, cold medicine, and fever reducers along with food. The medicine, although given to the trainees by their family, does not go directly to them. Instead, the visiting room duty officer takes it and transfers it to the foreman of the working unit, and then the foreman keeps it until the recipient makes a request. The family members always prepare cigarettes to offer the duty officer or the guard for ensuring the safe delivery to their husbands or sons without getting into trouble. Food and medicine are generally delivered well, but other items from a visit are not easily approved for delivery.   


Soldiers' Families are "Not even aware of their sons being sent to Discipline Centers"
     Unmarried noncommissioned officers (NCOs) or soldiers caught for crimes related to the Military and the People such as stealing farm crops or filching money from passersby normally do not have any friends or family members visit them in prison. Those who fall sick and die or become depleted due to malnutrition are usually these NCOs or soldiers. In Discipline Centers one cannot comfortably be sick. This is because if they are on sick leave for one week, their discipline training period is extended that extra week. All, with one goal of getting out of the Discipline Center as soon as possible, try to complete work days even on days of illness. If looked over by an armed and picky officer, one cannot work slowly or inefficiently even when sick. A concerned person expressed it this way: "One does not know how harsh the workload is unless they experience it. Towards the end of last year, a laborer went to work even when he was excreting bloody urine and died a short while later. Those who helplessly lose their lives are normally the Discipline Center members with a punishment period of a year or longer. The families of high ranking officers come to visit often, but the families of NCOs or normal soldiers cannot." To a question asking about the family ordinary soldiers must have, he replied "the military unit does not notify the family. How would the family come visit if they are unaware their children are in the Discipline Centers in the first place?" Patients with acute diseases with a small chance of survival are recommended by the military hospital to be sent home, but the approval of the decision itself takes around 3 months, so many of the patients die in that waiting period.


Defense Security Command Orders: “If anyone attempts escape, shoot to kill”
     The labor intensity at the discipline center for the Defense Security Command is much higher than other that of other discipline centers. There are no breaks during working hours. To use the restroom, one must pair up with another person in order to prevent the individual from running away. In case one does succeed in escaping, the other person’s training period is extended for another year. The system makes it so that everyone is constantly monitoring each other and places mistrust within individuals. Those caught while escaping receive a 10-year sentence at the Re-education Center. To prevent escapees, the supervisor and team leaders perform roll call or call out numbers every 15 minutes. Everyday work and especially migrating work is overseen by safety personnel from squadrons or platoons of the Defense Security Command with armed surveillance. An average group of 50 workers are monitored by an armed seven-person safety squad at all times. The Defense Security Command Training Center has a concrete fence five to six meters tall. At night, a searchlight and four machine guns keep watch at the fence. Because of the tight security, almost no one dreams of escaping. Furthermore, after a command to shoot and kill any runaways was passed down, no one has dared any attempt to run. Gang fights and assaults are next on the list of top concerns of the labor training center. Because these men are trained soldiers, fights within the trainees lead to serious violence. Conflicts arising from differing opinions result in disciplinary punishment upon a group and ten days of extended training.

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