Just days after a 21 year old University of Virginia student was dragged in front of the international media, forced to “confess to a crime”, and then sentenced to 15 years of hard labor, it has happened again.
Kim Dong Chul, a Fairfax, Virginia native was detained in October. Chul moved to the Chinese town of Yangji near the North Korean border, in 2011. He had been working for a trade and hotel-services company in Rason, North Korea – a special economic zone set up with the Chinese.
On Friday, Chul confessed to working with the South Koreans as a spy to help bring down the North’s government and spread religious ideas throughout the North – something the South categorically denies involvement in.
This is nothing new for North Korea, who frequently detain westerners to use them as political pawns in front of the world.
As part of Chul’s statement, he said:
“The extraordinary crime I committed was defaming and insulting the republic’s highest dignity and its system and spreading false propaganda aimed at breaking down its solidarity.”
Is Chul telling the truth? Very doubtful. Just days ago Otto Warmbier, the 21 year old college student confessed to equally high crimes after he stole a North Korean flag.
Warmbier was in North Korea on a bus trip from China that promotes extreme trips off the beaten path and markets itself to westerners looking for the thrill of going into a dangerous country such as North Korea. His sentencing likely gives an idea into what Chul may be facing himself.
So what type of hard labor are we talking about? Bustle had a good writeup on the topic in which they said:
Labor camps in North Korea could hypothetically be located anywhere, but the ones which the UN knows about are often located in isolated, rural areas. Inmates are forced to work in quarries, forestry, or on agricultural operations. Food and drink are often insufficient, and political prisoners have been reportedly forced to trap snakes and mice to be eaten raw in order to boost their caloric intake.
Despite Warmbier’s draconian sentencing for just allegedly attempting to steal some wall art, it is unlikely that he will experience the worst of the system. The North Korean authorities have a vested interest in maintaining secrecy — allowing an American to be exposed to the worst realities of life in prison labor camps is a liability that the regime likely cannot afford at this stage. It is probable that he will find himself working in an agricultural operation like former American detainee Kenneth Bae did, and will have access to enough food and water to be kept alive and relatively safe.
Bae was also sentenced to a 15 year term, like Warmbier, but released back to the United States after about only two years. It is often times more profitable for the North Korean regime to use captured Americans pawns in order to get concessions from the U.S. or her allies.
Will these two American prisoners be released early? Sound off in the comments below!