Page last updated at 14:44 GMT, Tuesday, 23 February 2010

South Korea opens prison for foreign convicts

South Korean prison - generic file image
One US convict said the new prison was better than standard ones

South Korea has opened what officials say is the world's first purpose-built prison for foreign convicts.

The prison offers Western food and satellite TV programmes in English, Chinese, Russian and Arabic.

The number of foreigners in South Korean jails has more than doubled in the past four years to about 1,500.

The prison's director said the inmates would still be able to pursue the "Korean dream" that had led them to the country in the first place.

The prison is about 100km (62 miles) south of the capital, Seoul, in Cheonan.

Inmates are given classes in Korean culture but can also view satellite TV from around the world and eat non-Korean meals. A number of the guards are fluent in English, Russian or Chinese.

Human rights

The prison library has been stocked with books from many of the foreign embassies in Seoul.

One American prisoner told visiting journalists that compared with standard South Korean prisons, the food and education on offer were much better.

The government has said the facility aims to respect the inmates' human rights and treat them in a humanitarian manner regardless of their language, culture or religion.

"We will operate this facility for the inmates to recognise that their 'Korean dream' was not a failure," said the prison's director, Kim Pyung-gun. "We will give them a message of hope."

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