Inside hell on Earth jails with cannibalism, torture and the infamous tyre

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MPs have complained that Britain’s prisons are too cushy, with some lags being allowed to have sex with visitors, private phones, and even a photo booth but elsewhere in the world, life behind bars can still be a truly grim experience.

In Rwanda’s Gitarama prison conditions are so poor that half a dozen people are said to die every day, while one former guard at North Korea’s infamous Camp 22 said the inmates are so badly treated they are little more than “walking skeletons”

From prisons run by criminal gangs, to jails where torture is an everyday fact of life these are the worst places to be locked up abroad…

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Gitarama Prison, in Rwanda, has been described as a 'literal hell on Earth'.

“The guards are brainwashed to thinking that prisoners are sub-human and are allowed to do anything they want to prisoners,” according to one report.

Dangerously overcrowded, with fights between prisoners a daily occurrence and reports of cannibalism emerging from its forbidding gates, Gitarama is believed by many to be the world’s worst prison.


Before it was destroyed by ISIS militants, though, Tadmor Military Prison, in Palmyra, Syria, might have claimed that dubious honour. The prison was designed to break inmates’ spirits from the outset.

One former detainee told Amnesty International: “The bus arrived at Tadmur Prison where the military police awaited us… The warders pulled us off the bus, whipping us mercilessly and brutally until we were all out.

"They removed the handcuffs and blindfolds, and then we were taken into a courtyard overlooked by prison offices, where our names were registered. All the while we were being whipped from all sides."

They went on to describe being tortured on the Dullab, or “tyre,” where the victim is suspended from a rope and repeatedly beaten with wooden poles.

Another torture method routinely used in Tadmor was “the German Chair” (al-Kursi al-Almani). Prisoners were tied to a metal chair that could be adjusted until their spines were stretched almost to the point of breaking. The victims’ lungs would be put under extreme pressure in the chair, causing asphyxiation.

Prisoners would deliberately provoke the guards into shooting them in order to end their suffering.

One inmate said: "When death is a daily occurrence, lurking in torture, random beatings, eye-gouging, broken limbs and crushed fingers, wouldn’t you welcome the merciful release of a bullet?”

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Tadmor was the site of a bloody massacre in 1980, when Rifaat al-Assad’s infamous Defence Brigades stormed the jail and went from cell to cell, machine-gunning defenceless prisoners who they suspected of being connected to the Muslim Brotherhood.

The precise death toll remains unknown but a 2001 Amnesty International report estimates that up to 1,000 people were murdered in the matter of a few minutes.

La Sabaneta

While all the prisoners in Tadmor suffered equally, those imprisoned in Venezuela’s La Sabaneta Prison can buy their way out of misery. La Sabaneta is ruled by a system of corruption, where guards “sell” places in the cells while unlucky prisoners who can’t afford to pay for a bed sleep in the corridors.

The shockingly overcrowded jail, built to house 700 but by the time it closed in 2013 it was believed to hold over 3,500, some 200 of them children of the inmates.

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Gang violence was common inside La Sabaneta, with 69 prisoners killed in 2013 alone.

Riots were a regular event, notably the deadly incident on January 3, 1994, when a group of inmates started a fire and then shot or stabbed anyone who tried to escape. Guards reportedly stood by and did nothing as the massacre unfolded. At least 150 people are believed to have died.

Camp 22

Very few details are known about Hoeryong concentration camp, sometimes referred to as Kwan-li-so No.22 or just Camp 22. One of North Korea’s notorious “re-education camps” it was not marked on any maps until recently and the North Korean government has always denied its existence.

The camp is reported to have closed in 2012, but even that is in doubt. In the 1990s, there were an estimated 50,000 prisoners in the camp, mostly people who had been heard to criticise the government. Entire families were locked up and no prisoners were ever released.

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One former guard, An Myong-chol, later defected to the South and told of his first day at Camp 22: “When I first saw [the prisoners], I thought we had captured a bunch of the South Korean beggars we often see depicted on North Korean TV.

“One of my buddies said later he'd heard that midgets live in special communes, and he thought we were entering such a village. The inmates were all short, like midgets. They were walking skeletons, nothing but skin and bone. They frightened me.

"On average, they are about 4’11'. Their faces are covered with cuts and scars where they have been struck. Most have no ears; they have been beaten off. Many have crooked noses, only one eye, or one eye turned in its socket."

No matter how badly injured the inmates were, all of them were forced to work. Inmates were beaten savagely for any minor breach of the rules.

An Myong-chol stood guard at an ammunition bunker located next to the detention barracks. "It was hard to pull duty there," he said, "because of the inmates' terrible screams and the ghastly sounds made by the keepers' blows.

He said executions were regular and seemingly without reason: "Whatever methods the [guards] want. They fret, how are we going to do it today? They decide on a whim.

"They use pistols on days they don't want to get their hands bloody. On other days, they kill them slowly and painfully just for the fun of it."


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