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.

2003

The overview of Camp 25 in 2003, showing perimeter and strategically placed guard towers

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.

hrnk

The expanded camp in 2012

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

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  • 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