Many have said that North Korea is the most rigidly controlled place on Earth. It is a oppressive, classically totalitarian nation that has no tolerance for any kind of dissent or even discussion of political issues. What does this mean for its people?
More than 200,000 prisoners are being held in just 5 of the 12 prison camps of North Korea, a nation of less than 20 million people. (the number of additional prisoners who are imprisoned in the other known and unknown prisons, some of which are said to be completely underground, is unknown. Kim Jong Il has a policy of using prisoners for construction workers at secret military projects, and it is said that these prisoners are worked until they are no longer productive, then killed and their bodies disposed of secretly. Once they enter these underground Secret Construction Projects, they must never again see the light of day, alive.) These political prisoners are kept under constant threat of execution, and all of the prison camps have facilities that would enable their captors to kill them rapidly - as in the case of a US attack. 
North Korea's State Security Agency maintains at least 12 political prisons and about 30 forced labor and labor education camps.
These camps are huge, as large as many US counties. At least two of the camps are larger in area than the District of Columbia
Camp Huaong is 3 times the size of Washington, DC.
At one camp, Camp 22 in Haengyong, 50,000 prisoners toil each day in conditions that U.S. officials and former inmates say result in the death of 20 to 25 percent of the prison population every year.
In the last three decades at least 500,000 people are believed to have perished in North Korea's huge network of prison camps, prisons and underground 'secret construction projects'.
North Korea's leadership spends at least 1/3 of the nation's resources on the military. Even as large portions of North Korean population slowly starves to death. In order to justify this 'military first policy' Kim Jong Il has created a pathologically hysterical, 'permanent crisis mentality' in which the United States, Japan and South Korea are demonized as 'enemies'. An almost unbelievably complex tapestry of lies are told the people in order to deify the leadership and its inner circle, as well as justify the people's many sacrifices to sustain a level of military spending that is entirely disproportionate to the size of the nation.
North Korean men are asked to spend a good portion of their adult life in the military, and most of the adult population is at one time or another, impressed into militias of one form or another.
North Korea is often said to be one huge prison, but in fact, there are many kinds of prisons, in which differing, often finely calibrated levels of brutality occur.
Many extreme and severe violations of human rights occur throughout the North Korean penal system including:
In most rural areas there is no medicine, running water, heating, food, or bandages where as the capital city, Pyongyang, glitters with nightclubs, casinos, luxury hotels, gourmet restaurants and state-of-the-art hospitals for leading Party members and the ruling elite. Meanwhile, an average North Korean without the money to bribe doctors for access to medical facilities has little to no access to basic medical care such that one might find in other developed nations, and many curable diseases go untreated, which can result in the magnification of simple into crippling health problems, loss of health or mobility, or often, death.
Humanitarian Relief Experts say that more than 4 million North Koreans have died of starvation since 1995 despite the fact that North Korea receives more food aid than any nation in the world.4
Lee Young Kuk, former bodyguard to President Kim says that millions of dollars of food is stockpiled in military complexes and used to feed soldiers and the ruling elite.4 North Korea illicitly exports narcotics to Russia, China, South Korea and Japan North Korea manufactures 1/3 of all Methamphetamines sold in Japan
Between 4,200 and 7,000 hectares of land are dedicated to cultivating the opium poppy, which is used to make the illegal addictive drug heroin.
 MSNBC. 'Death, terror in N. Korea gulag.' January 15, 2003. http://www.msnbc.com/news/859191.asp?0cv=CA01&cp1=1#BODY
 U.S. News and World Report. 'Gulag Nation.' June 23, 2003.
 Compiled from the Congressional Testimony of Soon Ok Lee before the House Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific. April 22, 2002. http://wwwa.house.gov/international_relations/107/lee0502.htm (link closed).
 WORLD magazine. 'View from the Axis.' March 9, 2002. http://worldmag.com/world/issue/03-09-02/cover_1.asp
 TIME asia, 'Kim's Rackets.' June 9, 2003. http://www.time.com/time/asia/magazine/printout/0,13675,501030609-455850,00.html
Read the entire article on the North Korea Freedom page (new window will open).