North Korea is expanding its main political prison camps, a human rights group has warned, publishing satellite images that show more guard posts, increased construction and developing agricultural areas.
Prisoners can be interned for years in the secluded mountain camps, where conditions are dire. In the freezing climate, some inmates die of frostbite, while public executions, torture and death by starvation are common, according to a report by Amnesty International in 2011.
Satellite images of the gulags from the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) and DigitalGlobe, a commercial earth image provider, have led researchers to conclude that the nation is either increasing its number of political prisoners or consolidating its labour camps.
Since 2009, the notorious Camp 25, also known as Kwan-li-so no. 25 and Susong Correctional Centre, on the northeast coast of North Korea, has grown by 72%.
Reasons for the expansion may include increased efforts to stem the flow of defectors before Kim Jong Il died so that the former ruler could ensure his son Kim Jong Un could take power, the HRNK said.
It also suggested Kim Jong-un may have pioneered a further crackdown on dissidents after he assumed power, or was consolidating its camp system
The human rights group warned that if some camps were being shut down it was vital that any evidence of abuses was not destroyed, or the remaining prisoners simply executed.
See more images of expansion over the last 10 years below
2003, Overview of Camp 25 showing the perimeter and strategically placed guard towers
2003: Central camp area
The central camp area including agricultural support, a light industrial area, prisoner housing, a crematory and administration and support areas
2004: Little change visible (one new building erected)
2005: little change
2006: small changes to industrial and prisoner housing area
Two new possible guard towers are also visible
2007: several buildings razed and new buildings in their place
2008: new buildings, fencing removed, earth graded for construction
2009: one building razed, four new guard towers, one new building
2010: Significant expansion
Camp's perimeter expands with new guard towers and lots of construction
2010, New rooves, new reflecting pool
A fence is being removed and new rooves on the baracks
2012: major new buildings
2011: several new buildings
2012: new roadways, new walls and buildings
2013: northwest wall
2013 high off nadir image: new buildings