North Koreans with family members in jail are engaging in an intense campaign to bribe judicial authorities to release their relatives as part of an amnesty program for prisoners that will be held in commemoration of two political anniversaries, sources inside the country said.
The standing committee of the Supreme People’s Assembly, the unicameral legislature of North Korea, announced on July 9 that prisoners who had been found guilty of offenses against the state and were currently serving prison sentences would receive amnesty on August 1 in celebration of the 70th anniversaries of national emancipation from Japanese rule and the founding of the Korean Workers’ Party, according to a recent report by state-controlled Korean Central News Agency.
“We will grant amnesty for the people who committed offenses against the homeland and those who have been found guilty,” the report said, citing the committee’s statement.
North Koreans anticipated the amnesty even before the government made the announcement, the sources said, although it only would apply to those who had been arrested before the standing committee issued the statement.
“The news report said that people who were sentenced to ‘labor detention centers’ for drugs, gambling and prostitution all would be released to their families, so the families are greatly welcoming this ‘amnesty,’” said a source from North Hamgyeong Province, the country’s northernmost province.
Some of the families of convicts arrested after July 9 are working hard to bribe judicial officials to change the arrest dates of their jailed loved-ones to before that date, he said.
The going rate to bribe officials to change an arrest date is about 1,000 Chinese yuan (U.S. $161), he added.
After the government announced the amnesty, high-ranking officials and residents alike from all over the country gathered around the notorious detention center that locals refer to as Jeonguri prison in Hoeryeong, a city in North Hamgyeong province, the source said.
The center houses the North Korean police’s 12th rehabilitation facility, he said.
“This facility’s Workers’ Party committee will create the list of prisoners to be released under the amnesty,” he said. “The families of the prisoners are paying bribes to Jeonguri prison authorities to get their relatives or siblings onto the list.”
Another source from North Hamgyeong province, who declined to be identified, said authorities would grant amnesty to first-time offenders, but not habitual ones because they are financially unstable.
The amnesty also would apply to inmates whose sentences are less than three years, he said, although authorities may reduce jail time up to three years for those with sentences longer than three years and who are repeat offenders if they are cultivated enough.
Authorities also plan to release North Koreans who were jailed for trying to defect to South Korea, he said.
“But there is one condition: They are included in the amnesty category only if they do not have family or relatives in either China or South Korea,” the source said.
Many convicts would be released from prison during the amnesty, he added.
Reported by Sung-Hui Moon for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Soo Min Jo. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.