Prisons can serve either good or evil. Prisons can prevent criminals from harming the society on one hand; while on the other hand, they can be tools for authoritarian governments to destroy innocent people, deemed as “enemies of the state.”
In free countries, prisons are most commonly used by criminal justice systems to enforce laws and punish criminals. Even though such facilities are regulated by laws, and prisoners have rights, such prisons are, nevertheless, places where freedoms are restricted by the state—and that is never a pleasant thing.
But things start leaning toward the hellish end of the comfort spectrum when we start talking about authoritarian states where people are not free to begin with and where governments are above the law—those are places where people have no rights and are stripped of their humanity, places where suffering knows no end … they become like hell on earth … as you will see.
We would like to make the world a better place, so we must shed light on these dark dens. After all, good people are powerless to fight evil that goes unseen.
So, without further ado, here are five of the worst prisons in the world:
#5. La Sabaneta Prison, Venezuela
La Sabaneta Prison in South America is considered one of the most violent prisons in the world. In 1994, a violent gun battle in the jail resulted in the deaths of 108 inmates. The following year, jail violence resulted in 196 deaths and 624 wounded prisoners.
The facility, designed to house 15,000 prisoners, is overcrowded and currently holds around 25,000 inmates. On average, there is just one guard for every 150 prisoners, and inmates are left alone to run their own community based on dominance.
Former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez once called Sabaneta “the gateway to the fifth circle of hell.”
#4. Tadmor Prison, Syria
Tadmor Military Prison in Palmyra, Syria, was one of the most notorious jails in the world. Tadmor means “destruction,” and in Arabic, the term denotes death, torture, horror, and madness.
Here, it was reported, thousands of political dissidents were subjected to extensive human rights abuses, torture, and even summary executions. A 2001 report by Amnesty International called the jail a source of “despair, torture and degrading treatment.”
The prison was destroyed in 2015.
#3. Camp 22, North Korea
Hoeryong Concentration Camp, known as Camp 22, in North Korea is completely isolated from the outside world and one of the most terrible places on earth. Run by a communist dictatorship, Camp 22 imprisons mostly political prisoners, who are often innocent people, not criminals, who are arbitrarily labeled enemies of the state. Due to the North Korean heredity rule, even family members of state enemies, including children, are jailed extending to three generations. Some are born in the camps, while some suffer for their whole lives here.
In the 1990s, it was estimated that 50,000 prisoners were being kept in Camp 22. Prisoners are subjected to torture, forced labor, and even cruel and unnecessary medical experiments. This camp is just one of a network of concentration camps across the country, where reportedly hundreds of thousands of people are imprisoned.
Unfortunately, we can hardly even scratch the surface of what goes on in this hellish place. Below are some illustrations by former prisoners of Camp 22 who escaped. You can also watch North Korea’s Killing Fields on YouTube.
#2. China’s Military Organ Transplant Centers, China
Although technically not a prison, these transplantation centers are where thousands of prisoners meet their terrible demise in secret throughout China.
Since around 2000, individuals deemed by the Chinese Communist Party to be a “threat,” namely Falun Gong practitioners—who are average citizens who practice meditation and hold traditional values—were rounded up like cattle and sent to concentration camps all over China, often without even a trial. Later, they end up in transplant centers, where they are murdered and their organs cut out and sold.
In June last year, a 10-year-long investigation concluded that these mass incarcerations of Falun Gong people became a “live organ bank” for use by the transplant centers (mostly military hospitals) across China. The investigators have testified before parliaments and governments around the world.
Based on available data and incriminating evidence, it is estimated that up to 1.5 million prisoners (most likely Falun Gong practitioners not guilty of actual crimes) have been murdered in this “live organ bank” system. The sale of organs, according to the investigators, has been extremely profitable, with some hospitals garnering hundreds of millions, even billions, of yuan in profits.
#1. Masanjia Labor Camp, China
Masanjia Forced Labor Camp, located near Shenyang, Liaoning Province, in China, is probably the most horrific prison in the world, with its brutal torture methods, slave labor, and hellish living conditions. Since 1999, it started imprisoning religious prisoners, mostly Falun Gong practitioners, often without trial.
Cruel torture methods are used on Falun Gong practitioners to force them to give up their faith, methods such as electric shock batons, hanging from the ceiling, various torture “beds” and “benches,” forced-feeding, nerve-damaging drugs, sleep deprivation, long-term solitary confinement, gang rape and other forms of barbaric abuse.
It is reported that Falun Gong practitioners are systematically blood tested, apparently to be cataloged in a “bank” of living organ “donors.” Practitioners are then killed on demand for their organs.
Whereas waiting times for organs in the United States are measured in months and years, waiting times in China—for hearts, lungs, and livers, you name it—are measured in days, even hours.