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Detainees awaiting trial in North Korea face violence, cruelty: study

Detainees awaiting trial in North Korea face violence, cruelty: study
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North Korea's pretrial detention system is riddled with torture, sexual abuse and dangerous health conditions, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch.

The 88-page report, which features interviews with several detainees and former officials, highlights the mistreatment and inhumane conditions present at pretrial detention facilities.

"North Korea's pretrial detention and investigation system is arbitrary, violent, cruel, and degrading," Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a news release. "North Koreans say they live in constant fear of being caught in a system where official procedures are usually irrelevant, guilt is presumed, and the only way out is through bribes and connections."

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Eight former government officials and 22 former detainees, who all fled from North Korea after 2011, gave their accounts through interviews featured in the report.

"Some guards who passed by would hit me with their hands or kick me with their boots ... For five days, they forced me to stay standing and didn't let me sleep," former detainee Lim Ok Kyung told the organization, which noted that she was arrested for smuggling goods to China in 2014.

Other detainees recalled being forced to sit on the floor with their legs crossed and heads bowed for nearly 16 hours and several women said that they faced sexual abuse, according to the report.

Women were also deprived of basic hygiene necessities such as menstrual supplies and soap.

One former detainee compared her experience to being treated as "less than an animal."

"[A]nd that's what you end up becoming," Yoon Young Cheol told Human Rights Watch.

A former police officer told CNN, which first reported on the new study, that the poor treatment began as soon as they arrived at the police station.

"[T]hey start with beating. They are thinking, Let's add to my numbers," Heo Jong-hae told the network. "If they solve the crime it helps with promotion and rising through the ranks." 

Human Rights Watch is working to rein in the cruelty within North Korean pretrial detention and interrogation facilities, CNN noted, adding that the group says that it has requested cooperation from the North Korean regime, but has only been met with silence.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division, told CNN that he was not surprised by the response, noting that the country usually only releases "news stories denouncing what we've found."