The government North Korea said it will grant an amnesty for some prisoners in connection with the birthdays of two of the country’s former leaders, Kim Jong-il (who died last month) and his father, Kim Il-sung, the founder of the nation.
The North Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the state-controlled news agency, said the amnesty will commence on February 1, adding that the measure reflected the noble, benevolent and all-embracing politics of President Kim Il-sung and leader Kim Jong-il.
Kim Jong-il would have been 70 in February; his father would have turned 100 in April.
However, the agency did not indicate how many prisoners would be released or their identities or which types of crimes will be pardoned.
Associated Press (AP) speculated that the pardons may be an effort to raise the popularity of the new leader, Kim Jong-un, who is likely struggling to find his footing, having been thrust into the position of power with little or no experience.
BBC noted that the last time North Korea announced a prisoner amnesty was in the summer of 2005, to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the end of Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula. It was also unclear how many inmates were released at that time.
According to the western human rights organization Amnesty International, there are probably up to 200,000 political prisoners in North Korea, many of whom are apparently languishing in subhuman conditions, including forced labor, starvation and torture.
Last year, Amnesty suggested that the number of prison camps in the country was actually increasing, citing satellite maps as evidence.