North Korean defector working on Parliament Hill Ottawa – Part 1

Ellie Cha was 19 when she left North Korea. She now works on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Cha is currently taking part in a program with the advocacy group HanVoice, which promotes human rights in North Korea. As part of the six-month program, the 23-year-old has spoken at universities in Ontario and Quebec while working as an intern.

As a child, Cha went to school and learned the same sorts of things a Canadian child might: reading, math, science – with a few differences. To start with, her history classes were almost completely wrong. She learned that the Korean War was started by South Korea and the United States, for example. Lacking any other information, she believed the history lessons, she said. But she didn’t believe the more overt propaganda.

Every day before class, students were asked to take 10 minutes to compose a written reflection on some recent news, like the “heroes” who died after they ran into burning buildings to save a portrait of North Korea’s founder, Kim Il Sung.

And after school, she and her family would attend group meetings designed to instill further loyalty to the regime. All those amazing photos of parades on holidays or celebrations in honor of the leaders are the result of months or even years of forced practice, she said.

Growing up, Cha was aware of limitations placed on her family’s success. North Korea’s government has a social system that ranks people based on their perceived loyalty to the regime and doles out economic and social privilege accordingly. The rank can go back several generations and can be affected by the actions of family members. Read more

Fake news in North Korea

In the North Korean media, news stories are made, not covered, said Chang Hae Seong. He was a former journalist for the North’s Korean Central Television (KCTV) and is now a defector living in Seoul. “While working as a reporter at the Division of Revolution I at the TV station, I dignified Kim Il Sung to elevate him to being the hero who saved the country,” he said during a recent interview with Korea Times.

When Kim Il Sung died of cardiac arrest in 1994 and the leadership was passed to his son Kim Jong Il, the next person in the so-called Mount Paektu Bloodline. “I did research on Kim to find stories. If I found even a speck of something positive about him, I would exaggerate it to recreate a whole story to portray him as a great leader,” Chang said. ”Reporters were ordered to make and report stories about the Kim family to justify their policies.”

Chang said he got into trouble in the 1990s after he shared classified information about the Kim family with one of his co-workers, and finally defected to evade arrest from the security forces.

According to Chang, North Korean state media’s current policy was established during the Kim Jong Il era. His son Kim Jong Un, who took power in late 2011 following his father’s death, has largely followed the guidelines set by his father. Chang said that the media environment in the reclusive country has changed a lot since he fled the North in 1996. Ordinary North Koreans now have greater access to news from foreign media.

In the 2000s, some defectors worked together to provide fact-based news programs for North Koreans. Today North Koreans can secretly tune their radios to listen to news from any of the several radio stations that specialize in such news.

[The Straits Times]

North Korean gulag: Camp 22

The North Korean gulag system is notorious for harsh conditions and brutal treatment of its prisoners. Camp 22, also known as Hoeryong concentration camp is part of a large system of North Korean prison camps. It is an 87-square-mile penal colony located in North Hamgyong province where most of the prisoners are people accused of criticizing the government.

Inmates, most of whom are serving life sentences, face harsh and often lethal conditions. According to the testimony of a former guard from Camp 22, prisoners live in bunkhouses with 100 people per room and some 30 percent show the markings of torture and beatings — torn ears, gouged eyes and faces covered with scars.

Prisoners are forced to stand on their toes in tanks filled with water up to their noses for 24 hours, stripped and hanged upside-down while being beaten or given the infamous “pigeon torture” — where both hands are chained to a wall at a height of 2 feet, forcing them to crouch for hours at a time.

Tiny rations of watery corn porridge leave inmates on the brink of starvation, and many hunt rats, snakes and frogs for protein. Some even take the drastic measure of searching through animal dung for undigested seeds to eat. Beatings are handed out daily for offenses as simple as not bowing down in respect to the guards fast enough. Prisoners are used as practice targets during martial arts training. Guards routinely rape female inmates.

[Fox News]

What North Korean defectors want Trump to know

Four North Korean defectors have told VOA in video messages intended for U.S. President Donald Trump what they want him to do and say during his visit to South Korea. The messages were delivered ahead of Trump’s departure Friday morning for a 12-day, five-nation tour which is expected to focus on tensions over North Korea’s its development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.

“If [Trump’s] coming to strengthen Korea-U.S. relations, he’s welcome, but if he’s coming to foment a war between the two Koreas, I cannot welcome him,” said Kim Young Soo, a defector and former soldier who arrived in South Korea in 2006. “As a head of state, I think he could be more discreet when talking about a war.”

The defectors want Trump to persuade China, Pyongyang’s only remaining ally, to stop repatriating North Koreans who take refuge there. “While seeking freedom, they are put at risk of being captured by Chinese authorities and being forcibly returned to North Korea,” said Ji Seong-ho, a defector. “They may even face death. So I sincerely would like to ask President Trump to urge China’s Xi Jinping to stop repatriation of North Koreans so that they can attain their dreams of freedom.”

And they want him to keep up the pressure on North Korea with sanctions. “It’ll take an insurgency against the regime to bring about a revolution,” said Ri Sun Kyong, who arrived to South Korea in 2002. “Every single country in the world should … increase pressure so an insurgency takes place.”

[VoA]

North Korean officials intimidating defectors in South Korea

North Korean spies infiltrated South Korea to threaten people who had fled the hermit kingdom, South Korea’s Unification Minister said Tuesday.

South Korean Minister Cho Myoung-Gyonto said his country would work to increase protections for defectors in the south, including by putting more limits on who can access the database holding defectors’ personal information. The minister said North Korean spies and hackers may have infiltrated the database to steal the personal data of North Koreans who had escaped.

“There is a real challenge for North Koreans because they usually aren’t well educated, they stand out, their dialect is different and they are smaller,” explained Abraham Denmark, director of the Asia Program at the Wilson Center. “And there is a long history of North Korea sending people into the south [as spies].”

“North Korean security officials are also visiting defector families and applying pressure to make them talk the defectors into returning home,” a source said.

Despite the dangers in South Korea, North Koreans who have made it south are luckier than many who get stuck in China on their way. This summer, at least 70 North Korean defectors were intercepted in China, held in detention centers and eventually deported back to North Korea. Human rights experts criticize China for repatriating North Korean defectors, but Beijing continues to abide by a 1986 treaty with Pyongyang that includes a repatriation agreement.

 [Newsweek]

300,000 underground Christians in North Korea

The totalitarian state of North Korea forces the estimated 300,000 Christians living there to hide their religious beliefs and fellowship among each other.

“In a nation where the ruling regime demands total control over the general public, anything that challenges the government’s power is seen as a threat, including religion,” Jeff King, president of International Christian Concern, told Fox News. “As a result, the North Korean government does everything in its power to squash the spread of Christianity.”

This leads much of the religious population in North Korea to go underground with their worship. On the subject, North Korean defector Choi Kwanghyuk said, “North Hamgyong province is very cold. In the winter, we would dig a big hole and store kimchi there. We sometimes had services there. In the summer, we had services in the mountain or by the river. …We had only one Bible.”

In 2008, North Korean authorities caught up to Choi and arrested him. He said that he was about to be sent to one of North Korea’s brutal labor camps when he was able to break free. “I decided to escape because I thought that once they sent me to the other camp, they could eventually send me to the concentration camp or kill me,” Choi recalled. “I was traveling back and forth between China and North Korea, but they kept searching for me, and I knew it could put my friends in danger too, so I left.”

“Unfortunately, it is inexplicably easy to wind up in one of these camps. While someone can be sent to one of these camps for openly evangelizing, someone can just as easily be sent there for simply being in contact with a religious person,” said King.

[Fox News]

Ex-US ambassador: Trump has gotten China to do more on North Korea than any American president

President Donald Trump, in unprecedented fashion, has been able to get the Chinese government to turn the screws on North Korea in hopes of getting Kim Jong Un to halt military provocations, according to a former diplomat who has advised Republican and Democratic presidents.

“The Chinese have done more under President Trump’s prodding than any other American president. They signed on to the UN sanctions. There are now individual Chinese sanctions; the central bank governors instructed banks in China to wind up loans to North Korea,” Nicholas Burns told CNBC.

“The Chinese are clearly frustrated with the North Koreans. The Chinese don’t want a war on the Korean Peninsula. They want trade,” said Burns, who served as U.S. ambassador to NATO and was the State Department’s third-ranking official during George W. Bush’s presidency. He also advised the administrations of George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, who was just given a major governing mandate, will be “eager to cooperate” with Trump, said Burns, a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. “The president [Trump] has obviously gone slow on any kind of major [trade] sanctions against China because he’s prioritizing the North Korean issue. The Chinese understand that.”

Burns said the best scenario for Trump on his upcoming Asian trip would be to persuade North Korea’s Kim through a unified international alliance to agree to negotiations.

It’s unknown whether Trump will visit the DMZ. “I think it may too provocative. Given the fact that the president is not disciplined and his advisors never know what he’s going to say or not say,” Burns said.

[CNBC]

Latest Treasury sanctions on North Korea

The Treasury Department on Thursday issued new sanctions on seven individuals and three entities connected to the North Korean regime in conjunction with a new report from the State Department on human rights abuses within the hermit kingdom.

The sanctions were issued by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, and they freeze any property or interest in property within U.S. jurisdiction and generally prohibit any transactions by U.S. citizens with any of the sanctioned individuals or groups. Among the sanctioned entities are the Government of North Korea and the Workers’ Party of Korea.

 “North Korea is run by a brutal regime that continues to engage in serious human rights abuses. We are especially concerned with the North Korean military, which operates as secret police, punishing all forms of dissent. Further, the military operates outside of North Korea to hunt down asylum seekers, and brutally detains and forcibly returns North Korean citizens,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

“Today’s sanctions target the North Korean military and regime officials engaged in flagrant abuses of human rights. We also are targeting North Korean financial facilitators who attempt to keep the regime afloat with foreign currency earned through forced labor operations.”

[CNBC]

North Korean resettlement in South Korea over the past 20 years

In the decades following the Korean War, there were a handful of high-profile defections from North to South Korea and vice versa, but the total number of people who voluntarily resettled from one state to the other was very small.

During the late 1990s, as North Korea experienced famine and economic collapse, a growing number of North Koreans fled to China to secure their livelihoods, with some eventually making it to the South. The number of North Koreans arriving in the South reached a peak in 2009.

After 2011, the number of North Koreans arriving in South Korea dropped by about 50% from this peak. Some cite tightened border security as the primary reason for this downturn, although relatively improved economic conditions in North Korea and an anti-defection propaganda campaign within North Korea may also be contributing factors.

The majority of North Koreans who have resettled in the South have been women, who currently account for about 70% of the North Korean population in South Korea. The lower participation rate of women in North Korea’s formal labor force may account for some of this gender imbalance.

Click following link for charts: North Korean Resettlement in South Korea

Other North Korean defectors voluntarily return to the North?

The South Korean Unification Ministry said that 26 North Korean defectors have gone back to North Korea out of the total who have come to South Korea, which stood at 31,093 as of the end of September.

The Unification Ministry is looking into the whereabouts of a 30-something North Korean defector couple, which a local cable TV channel reported on Sunday could not be reached after they left for China in mid-October.

“As they fell out of touch after leaving for China, authorities are investigating the case,” Baik Tae-hyun, ministry spokesman, told a regular press briefing.

In mid-July, another North Korean female defector who had gone to China appeared in a North Korean propaganda video, stating she returned to North Korea after suffering “physically and mentally in the capitalist South”. She insisted that she was lured to South Korea by the fallacy that she could make a lot of money. The woman had become somewhat popular in South Korea after appearing on cable TV show programs featuring North Korean defectors.

Baik, the Unification Ministry spokesman said, “The government will make efforts to help North Korean defectors better settle here through cooperation with private agencies and local communities … and will also do its part to create an atmosphere to embrace North Korean refugees as members of our society.”

[The Korea Herald]