Bounties for North Korean defectors instituted

Approximately 30 North Korean defectors have been arrested by Chinese public security officials in the city of Shenyang and are facing repatriation. Three groups of defectors totaling approximately 30 individuals, including children under the age of five, were arrested while in transit from Shenyang (China) to Vietnam. They have been transported to the border city of Dandong, and are likely to be repatriated to North Korea soon, a source close to North Korean affairs in China reported to Daily NK.

“North Korea’s State Security Department [SSD] is exchanging gold produced at state-run mines in the border area to the Chinese authorities in return for the repatriation of defectors. … Leaflets and placards have been posted in Chinese cities advertising rewards for reporting defectors to the police. This has made it more difficult for defectors to hide,” the source added.

In addition, the North Korean authorities have recently announced a domestic ‘reward system’ in order to prevent defection attempts before they occur. Security agents have informed residents in North Hamgyong Province that the reward for reporting a planned defection is 5 million KPW (approximately 600 USD).

Due to this new policy, the number of residents attempting defection in North Korea has reportedly plummeted. “With the severe crackdowns, no one is bold enough to attempt defection. The brokers that normally aid defectors are saying, “It is hard to make a living because no one wants to defect anymore,” the source concluded.


North Korea continues to expand prison camps

On Tuesday, Washington-based Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) released images of Camp No. 25, a camp near Chongjin, on North Korea’s northeast coast. According to HRNK, the camp underwent an expansion before 2010, when it almost doubled in scale, and has continued to operate at its larger size.

“Our satellite imagery analysis of Camp No. 25 and other such unlawful detention facilities appears to confirm the sustained, if not increased importance of the use of forced labor under Kim Jong-un,” HRNK executive director Greg Scarlatoiu said in a statement.

HRNK‘s report comes after separate analysis by Amnesty International this month concluded that Pyongyang “is continuing to maintain, and even invest, in these repressive facilities. … These camps constitute the cornerstone of the country’s large infrastructure dedicated to political repression and social control that enables widespread and systematic human rights abuses.”

The UN’s 2014 report estimated that “hundreds of thousands of political prisoners” have died in the North Korean gulags over the past 50 years amid “unspeakable atrocities.”


North Korea pledges ‘tough’ response to UN sanctions


North Korea warned of “tougher countermeasures for self-defense” after the UN Security Council unanimously imposed its strongest-ever sanctions on Pyongyang.

The country’s foreign ministry issued a statement on Thursday calling the UNSC’s move “another excess of authority and violation of the DPRK’s sovereignty”, referring to its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. “Many countries – including all the permanent member states of the UNSC – have so far conducted thousands of nuclear tests and rocket launches, but the UNSC has never prevented them from doing so,” said the ministry’s statement carried on state-run Korean Central News Agency.

“[US President Barack] Obama and his lackeys are sadly mistaken if they calculate that they can force the DPRK to abandon its line of nuclear weaponization and undermine its status as a nuclear power through base sanctions to pressurize it,” it said.

North Korea insists its nuclear weapons are a deterrent to US “aggression” and has brushed aside earlier sanctions, which have notably targeted its weapons exports and access to financial markets.

The resolution demands that North Korea “abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programmes” and takes aim at the state’s exports of coal – its top external revenue source.

Under the resolution, North Korea will be restricted from exporting beyond 7.5 million tonnes of coal in 2017, a reduction of 62 percent from 2015.

Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the UN, said the resolution would strip the regime of more than $700m in hard currency, dramatically reducing the money it can spend on nuclear and ballistic weapons.

[Al Jazeera]

New sanctions on North Korea imposed by UN Security Council

The United Nations Security Council imposed new sanctions on North Korea on Wednesday that aim to cut the Asian state’s annual export revenue by more than a quarter, in response to Pyongyang’s fifth and largest nuclear test in September.

The 15-member council unanimously adopted a resolution that cuts North Korean coal exports by 60 percent with an annual cap of $400.9 million or 7.5 million metric tonnes, on sales. It also bans the export of copper, nickel, silver, zinc and statues.


North Korea-China border trade could further tighten with new sanctions

The single-lane bridge, the “Friendship Bridge”, in the Chinese border city of Dandong is the main gateway for international trade into isolated and heavily sanctioned North Korea and it has grown unusually quiet of late, traders and businessmen in the city of 2.5 million people say.

Lu Chao, Director of the Border Study Institute at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, a Chinese government think-tank, said: “China has been cutting back the number of workers from North Korea it allows in by tightening checks on potential visiting workers and making the paperwork more difficult.”

“There’s still a flow of workers coming into China. But if there’s a new round of tougher sanctions, no doubt we’ll see a further drop in the number of workers coming from North Korea to China,” Lu said.

Estimates of North Korea’s overseas workers vary greatly but a study by South Korea’s state-run Korea Institute for National Unification put the number as high as 150,000, primarily in China and Russia. They send back most of their wages – as much as US$900 million annually – through official North Korean channels.

Beijing is now close to approving new sanctions with the four other veto powers of the U.N. Security Council to further cut North Korea’s coal exports. When it comes to squeezing North Korea, the Friendship Bridge is where the rubber hits the road. Around 80 percent of trade between China and North Korea flows across it.

[Channel News Asia]

South Korea to increase benefits for North Korean defectors

The South Korean government will raise the subsidy given to North Korean defectors when they are first getting settled in the South. The Unification Ministry on Sunday said it will gradually raise both the resettlement payment and housing expenses for defectors, which currently is W7 million ($5947) and W13 million ($11,045) per person.

From 1998 and 2004, the government initially paid every defector W37 million ($31,435) towards getting settled, when the Roh Moo-hyun administration halved the subsidy.

Defector groups point out that it is difficult to settle in with the current payout given that they have often spent all their money on traffickers, plus incurred fines in third countries like Laos and Thailand.

The ministry also pledged to create public-sector jobs for defectors, to help them integrate, and encourage more private firms to hire them.

[Chosun Ilbo]

Refusing to stop criticizing Kim Jong-un

Yeonmi Park is a young woman who fled North Korea through Mongolia. Border guards had surrounded her group of refugees as it meandered through the Gobi desert, and told them they would be immediately sent back to China.

Yeonmi and her mother begged for their lives. When that failed, they tried something altogether more radical. They grabbed the small knives they had brought and thrust them to their throats, threatening to commit suicide unless the guards let them stay in Mongolia. ‘I thought it was the end of my life. We were saying goodbye to one another,’ Yeonmi says.

Their actions, though, proved effective. Yeonmi and her mother were taken into custody and after 15 days were transferred to a detention center in Ulan Bator, the Mongolian capital. Several weeks later they were handed over to South Korean officials and one day Yeonmi stood at Ulan Bator’s Chinggis Khaan airport preparing to board a plane for Seoul. It was her first time flying and her new-found freedom had not yet sunk in. ‘Oh my God,’ she thought when Mongolian customs officials waved her through. ‘They didn’t stop me.’

A few hours later the plane touched down at Incheon airport in Seoul. Yeonmi stepped off the passenger jet wearing a shabby prison uniform. She remembers gasping at the sight of the moving walkways – a contraption unimaginable in her broken and impoverished homeland – and the immaculate lavatory facilities. ‘It was the first time I had seen a fancy rest room. I thought, “It’s so clean. Do I wash my hands in the [lavatory bowl]?’’ ’ she says. ‘Every­thing was shiny. I’d never seen anything like it.’

In April she was finally reunited with the sister she had long feared was dead; Eunmi, now 23, had reached South Korea via China and Thailand.

Still Yeonmi feels she has not entirely escaped the clutches of Kim Jong-un’s regime. South Korea allocates local detectives to keep an eye on all newly arrived defectors, and in May Yeonmi received a call from the official handling her case. He warned her that her name had been added to a ‘target list’ of outspoken defectors that the North Korean regime wanted to eliminate. The revelation made her more angry than scared.

The detective and Yeonmi’s mother urged her to stop criticizing Kim Jong-un. But she ignored them, convinced that she, as someone who had suffered the same fate, now had a moral obligation to draw attention to the thousands of women risking sexual violence and murder as they tried to escape North Korea.

[The Telegraph]

North Korea upgrading its prison camps “abuse on an industrial scale”

North Korea has upgraded its network of brutal prison camps to add six new guard posts and a crematorium as part of its ongoing “industrial scale” of torture and abuse, Amnesty International has warned.  The human rights group has obtained satellite images of the secretive regime’s “kwanliso 15” and “kwanliso 25” camps, which show increased activity on both sites.

“…The imagery we’ve analyzed is consistent with our prior findings of forced labor and detention in North Korea’s kwanliso, and the physical infrastructure the government uses to commit atrocities are in working order,” Micah Farfour, an imagery analyst for Amnesty International, said.

Most of the notorious camps’ estimated 120,000 inmates are believed to be political prisoners, with many thrown in jail simply for criticizing the regime.

North Korean defectors who have escaped the camps say inmates are worked to death in the surrounding fields, while some are ordered to murder their own children to reduce the number of mouths that need feeding.

“The North Korean government is still denying the existence of these hellish camps, but year after year we’ve documented and photographed a vast network so massive that it’s visible from space,” said Kerry Moscogiuri, Amnesty‘s UK director of campaigns. “The tens of thousands of people held in the camps face unimaginable suffering –  excruciating forced labor, rampant malnutrition, violent punishments, rape and even execution. These images chronicle abuse on an industrial scale.”

[The Telegraph]

North Korea on Canadian and American detainees

North Korea said on Friday that it had discussed the issue of American and Canadian detainees with the Swedish ambassador in the country. Neither the US or Canada have diplomatic offices in North Korea.

The North is holding at least two Americans and one Canadian for alleged espionage, subversion and other anti-state activities.

A North Korean Foreign Ministry official met with the Swedish ambassador on Thursday for talks on consular access for the Canadian detainee, Hyeon Soo Lim, a Christian pastor from Toronto sentenced last year to life in prison with hard labor, according to Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency.

The Swedish ambassador used the meeting as a chance to raise the issue of consular affairs for the American detainees. The Pyongyang official, identified as the director general of the ministry’s European Department 2, reiterated a position that the North will handle the issues of detained Americans line with a wartime law, according to the KCNA.

North Korea has not elaborated on what “wartime law” means, although it suggests North Korea could deal with US detainees in a harsher manner. No further details were given, including what the North Korean official said about Lim.

Korean-American Kim Tong Chol is serving a 10-year prison term with hard labor, while University of Virginia undergraduate Otto Warmbier received 15 years over alleged anti-state activities such as espionage and subversion.

Pyongyang’s Supreme Court found Lim guilty of crimes such as allegedly trying to use religion to destroy the North Korean system and helping US and South Korean authorities lure and abduct North Korean citizens, along with aiding their programs to assist defectors from the North.

Outside analysts say North Korea often uses foreign detainees as a way to win concessions from other countries.

[South China Morning Post]

North Korean ambassador to the UK now in a prison camp?

North Korean defectors in Britain speculate that the regime’s former UK ambassador, Hyon Hak Bong, had been sent to a prison camp.

Mr Hyon is understood to have been blamed for the embarrassing defection of Thae Yong Ho, a senior diplomat at its embassy in London, who fled to South Korea earlier this year.

The ambassador was said to have been recalled to Pyongyang by furious North Korean officials once they discovered Mr Thae and his family had fled Britain from under his nose.

“The regime has decided to punish him as they say he failed to prevent his own people from going to South Korea,” said Jihyun Park, a North Korean human rights activist who fled the dictatorship in 1998. “…Usually what are called ‘high profile’ criminals are sent to the prison camps,” Ms Park said.

[Read full Telegraph article]