A video has emerged from inside the secret communist nation of North Korea showing teenagers sent to gulags for watching banned television shows. The two students were punished in front of a stadium of young people and sentenced to 12 years in prison, with hard labor, for watching TV channels from neighboring South Korea.
South Korean media content is strictly prohibited in North Korea on the orders of its supreme leader and dictator, Kim Jong Un. Until 2020, the punishment for watching or listening to external media was less than five years in a labor camp, but Kim Jong Un did not believe this punishment was severe enough and changed the sentence to a term in the widely feared gulags.
Communist regimes often use gulags to punish people for dissent, and North Korea models its system on that of the Soviet Union. Exact figures are unknown, but experts estimate that between 80,000 and 120,000 people are currently held in North Korean gulags. Many condemned prisoners spend the rest of their lives in the prison camps, subjected to starvation and torture.
A small number of survivors have testified that prisoners are forced to dig their own graves and watch the execution of fellow prisoners prior to their own. Prisoners also testify that malnutrition causes inmates to eat tree bark, rodents, insects, and lizards, but if caught doing this, they are usually killed.
Soviet gulags operated from the 1920s to the 1950s and held millions of prisoners. People sent to the camps included convicted criminals but also members purged from the Communist Party for various reasons, dissident intellectuals, suspected traitors, or those accused of disloyalty.
Historians say that the majority of people in Soviet gulags were innocent of any crime and were imprisoned for political beliefs or opinions. These prisoners reportedly endured worse treatment than convicted criminals at the hands of ideologically-committed guards. Around 20 million were sent to gulags in the Soviet Union, and about 2 million died there.