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The secret horror of North Korean prison camps... and how Google Earth has helped to unmask them

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01/25/2013 06:50 PM
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The secret horror of North Korean prison camps... and how Google Earth has helped to unmask them
The secret horror of North Korean prison camps... and how Google Earth has helped to unmask them

• The freely available application is being used to map out the hidden camps
• More than 200,000 people are believed to be imprisoned in the network
• Human rights activists say images could help build pressure to close them
• Inmates forced to eat rats and even pick through faeces in bid for survival
By Becky Evans
PUBLISHED:14:16 EST, 24 January 2013| UPDATED:14:42 EST, 24 January 2013
network of North Korean prison camps are being mapped out in unprecedented detail thanks to Google Earth.
The freely available application is being utilised by human rights activists to unmask the scale of the forced labour camps where more than 200,000 people are imprisoned.
Amnesty International is among the organisations that have praised the use of Google Earth in helping to reveal the truth in one of the world's most secretive states.

Guard houses and burial grounds have been identified in this image of Camp 22 where 50,000 are believed to be imprisoned

Prisoners in Camp 22 are forced to stone each other to death and up to 2,000 people die of starvation or disease a year
Amnesty, which is banned in the Communist country, said inmates have to go to almost unimaginable lengths to survive the camps where starvation, disease and executions are rife.
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Spokesman Neil Durkin told MailOnline: '[Camp] inmates have been reduced to eating rats or picking corn kernels out of animal waste to survive, and an estimated 40% of detainees die of malnutrition.
'For years the North Korean authorities have tried to deny the very existence of these camps - so if commercial satellite mapping can help support what we’ve been able to show about the extent of a secret network of prison camps, then it could be helpful in putting pressure on the authorities to get them closed down.'

Camp 16, pictured, was discovered by Mr Stanton in 2007 while he was researching North Korea using Google Earth
Google chairman Eric Schmidt was criticised in recent weeks after he visited the secretive state headed by Kim Jong Un on what was called 'personal travel'.
Many were angry at the timing of his visit to North Korea - a country with notoriously restrictive online policies - coming just weeks after a controversial rocket launch that was condemned by Washington.
But Joshua Stanton, a Washington lawyer who blogs on North Korean human rights, said the trip is insignificant compared to Google's good work in revealing the truth about the state.
He told Irish news outlet RTE: 'The good that Google has done, however inadvertently, by helping people tell the truth about North Korea, will probably be reflected in the history of the country one day.'

The application has also helped reveal normal life in the secretive country such as this image of a Shiite Mosque in the capital Pyongyang
Mr Stanton has used the tool to compile details of six prisoner camps, including three that he identified.
Through the images he has been able to pinpoint burial grounds, guard houses and gates on vast camps that are made to look like villages.
Mr Stanton helped identify Camp 16 where he says more than 10,000 men, women and children are imprisoned.
Images have also been taken of Camp 22 which houses about 50,000 people and where prisoners are forced to stone each other to death, women are regularly raped and an estimated 2,000 people die a year.
Men, women and children are forced to work seven days a week as slaves and eat what they can find to battle starvation.
Experts say tens of thousands of prisoners at the camps are often taken from their homes or in the street for supposed 'political crimes'.
Other camps that have been identified with the help of Google Earth include the Yodok camp, where an estimated 50,000 North Koreans are imprisoned.

Google chairman Eric Schmidt, left, pictured arriving at Beijing airport from North Korea with former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, right, was criticised for the timing of the trip

Sophie Schmidt, the daughter of the Google chairman, who travelled with her father to North Korea, wrote a blog post of her observations and included photos of the secretive country. She said university students have carefully-monitored internet access and are under strict instructions to access only educational materials
Amnesty has interviewed escapees and released prisoners who say they witnessed executions for 'crimes' such as 'defiance of North Korean system, espionage acts, or refusal to be reformed'.
One mechanic was killed for failing to repair an officer's car properly.
Witnesses say the most common charge for public execution is attempting to escape.
Others are arrested at dawn or dusk from their homes and gagged for supposed suspicious activity.
Google Earth's high resolution satellite imagery has also been praised by the Committe for Human Rights in North Korea, a US non-governmental organisation.
It said in its 2012 edition of The Hidden Gulag that the technology 'allows the former prisoners to identify their former barracks and houses, their former execution grounds and otehr landmarks in the camps'.
Google Earth has also been used to reveal details about everyday life in North Korea - such as mosques in the capital Pyongyang and schools, roads and train stations.
[link to www.dailymail.co.uk]