The US-based human rights organization says it has interviewed dozens of former North Korean detainees and officials and denounced the situation in North Korea’s detention centers, where torture is often practiced.

North Korea – accused of large-scale human rights violations – is a “closed” country about which little is known about the functioning of its judiciary.

Interviewees said pre-trial detention was “particularly harsh” and that detainees were abused and often beaten.

“The regulation says that detainees should not be beaten, but we need testimonies during the investigation,” a former police officer explained.

“Then you have to hit in order to get the testimony,” he admitted.

Former detainees said they were forced to stay on their knees or sit cross-legged without moving – sometimes for 16 hours in a row – and any gesture resulted in punishment.

They were then beaten with sticks, leather belts or fists and forced to choose up to 1,000 rounds in a circle on the edge of the prison yard.

“There you are treated worse than an animal, which you end up getting,” said a former detainee, Yoon Young Cheol.

The women interviewed stated that they were sexually assaulted.

Kim Sun Young, a 50-year-old saleswoman who fled North Korea in 2015, said she was raped by her investigator in a detention center.

Another officer touched her during questioning, she said, adding that she did not have the strength to object.

In its report, HRW calls on Pyongyang to “end endemic and cruel torture and degrading and inhuman treatment in detention centers.”

HRW urges South Korea, the United States and other UN member states to “put pressure on the North Korean government.”

In general, North Korea assures that it respects human rights and argues that criticism from the international community is a defamation campaign aimed at “undermining the sacred socialist system.”