Public executions in North Korea

An NGO researching atrocities under the Kim John Un regime has confirmed that public executions still happen in North Korea and how these are intended to instill fear of the North Korean government, and to be witnessed by as many people as possible.

The Transitional Justice Working Group‘s executive director Hubert Youngwhan Lee told Sky News: “There are certain types of locations that are frequently used for the public killings. The most commonly used locations are river banks, under bridges, markets, or even on school grounds, or public stadiums.”

Asked to clarify whether school grounds were being used for public executions, he replied: “Yes, school grounds, because North Korea uses this as a tool for instilling public fear of being punished by their government.”

He said public killings continue to be carried out under Mr Kim’s leadership, with testimony as recently as 2015, three years into his rule.

His colleague, researcher Sehyek Oh, who is from North Korea, has carried out 375 interviews so far with fellow defectors, including former officials, as they gather evidence ultimately intended to be used in court, to bring those responsible to justice.

[Sky News]

North Korean defector reveals why enthusiastic crowds for Kim Jong Un

A North Korean defector has revealed why many people still seem to follow Kim Jong Un despite the country being in a terrible economic state and their leader possibly taking them to nuclear war.

The man, who didn’t want to be identified to protect his daughter who still lives in the country, said North Koreans are forced to show loyalty or they will be punished. He added the crowds were manufactured and the people turned out because they feared the consequences.

“These civilians, if the government tells them to come, … they’re forced to come, they don’t have the freedom not to,’ he told Sky News after being shown footage of thousands of people at a pro-regime rally in capital Pyongyang. He added: ‘People are scared. On the surface they look thankful, but none of it is genuine.’

He said criticism of the regime could result in being taken to a prison camp or even being publicly executed.

Venues for executions included river banks, stadiums and school property. The defector said: ‘Yes, school grounds, because North Korea uses this as a tool for instilling public fear of being punished by their government.’

[Metro UK]

Kim Jong-un ‘no longer seen as God’, as more Koreans turn to God

The North Korean regime continues to persecute anyone practicing religion within its borders, according to a new US State Department study, although reports from within the country suggest that more people are turning to religion.

The US State Department annual report on global religious freedoms again singled out North Korea. “The government continued to deal harshly with those who engaged in almost any religious practices through executions, torture, beatings and arrests”, the report states. … An estimated 80,000 to 120,000 political prisoners, some imprisoned for religious reasons, were believed to be held in the political prison camp system in remote areas under horrific conditions”, it adds.

Those claims were backed up by a North Korean defector who is now a member of the Seoul-based Worldwide Coalition to Stop Genocide in North Korea. “Officially sanctioned persecution of people for religious reasons is still there and, I would say, even stronger than before”, the defector told The Telegraph.

But subtle changes are slowly becoming visible, said the defector, who declined to be named as he is active in assisting underground churches operating in the North. “In the past, the people were told to worship the Kim family as their god, but many North Koreans no longer respect Kim Jong-un”, he said. “That means they are looking for something else to sustain their faith. In some places, that has led to the emergence of shamens, but the Christian church is also growing and deepening its roots there”, he said.

“Even though people know they could be sent to prison – or worse – they are still choosing to worship, and that means that more cracks are appearing in the regime and the system”, he added.

[The Telegraph]

North Korean defector: “North Korean life is slavery, mentally and physically”

Dr. Lee Min-bok lives on the South Korean side of the world’s tensest border, along with his weather-tracking data, and his leaflets. Whenever the wind is right, he rushes out to blow up an enormous helium balloon, tied to hundreds of leaflets that combat the propaganda machine of North Korea. With facts about how wealthy and advanced South Korea is compared to the North, Lee’s leaflets encourage North Koreans to think for themselves, reconsider their circumstances, and rise up.

But how can Lee be so sure that plastic sheets of paper could possibly change hearts and minds? Because one saved his life.

Born and raised in North Korea, he worked in agriculture as a professor. Like all North Koreans are taught, he revered the Kim family. But he first grew disenchanted in the late 1980’s after his attempts to innovate the farming techniques were denied, despite the reprieve it would have brought from famine and starvation.

Then, while in the fields one day, he discovered a small leaflet that simply described how North Korea invaded South Korea and began the Korean War -– a reality that defied the regime’s propaganda. “After reading the leaflet, I knew that the North Korean regime was all false, so I decided to flee to the South,” he said.

Staring across the river now, nearly three decades later, Lee says he feels like he’s looking at his hometown, looking at the family he left behind. “I want to rescue these people out of the country,” he said, noting he still has family on the other side of the border.

To do that, he now tells his story in leaflets — how the truth fell from the sky and saved his life. He wants to arm North Koreans with that same knowledge so that they will defy the regime — a mission so dangerous that he travels with government minders at all times, four stone-faced South Korean men who move in a ring around him.

When asked what life is life in North Korea, Lee said: “It is slavery, mentally and physically.”

[ABC News]

North Korean defector: “I think Kim Jong-un would do it”

Following President Trump’s new warnings to Kim Jong Un’s nuclear threats, a woman who escaped North Korea 17 years ago is speaking out. Youngae Ma, who has been living in New Jersey for the past decade, once worked as an intelligence agent for North Korea’s security department. She was a military member stationed in China when she managed to escape the grasp of the rogue state.

Ma believes the recent threats of nuclear war from her native country’s leader should be taken seriously. “To boost his image and show strength, I think (Kim Jong-un) would do it,” she said.

She says that the U.S. or U.N. may need to show force first to prove they won’t take the threats lightly. “Someone like that has to be taken out because he will not listen to anyone—not the U.S. or U.N.,” she said.

Ma told a translator, “During my time in North Korea, I realized the government really messed up. Watching the government starve and kill innocent people is what drove me to escape.”

Ma is now well known in her Palisades Park community for selling homemade traditional North Korean dishes and sausages at local markets. In 10 years, she has used her profits to help more than 1,000 people escape North Korea to China, Russia, or the U.S. like she did. She has also helped them find jobs in their new countries.

Though she has assisted many, Ma has been unable to get her own family to the U.S. She believes her sister in North Korea was killed by the government for passing information to her in New Jersey.

[NBC New York]

North Korean refugees escape to Thailand via Christian underground railroad

At a glance, Thailand seems an unlikely destination for North Koreans seeking to defect from their abusive state. For starters, the two nations are separated by about 3,000 miles. Most of that distance is consumed by China, which tends to scoop up intruding North Korean refugees and ship them back home, where they face grim retaliation in gulags.

Yet each year, hundreds and sometimes thousands of North Koreans make this grueling overland journey from their frigid homeland to the tropics of Southeast Asia. Despite its distance, Thailand is actually one of the closest reachable nations where North Koreans can reasonably expect that the government will deliver them to South Korean officials. That is the goal: defecting to South Korea, their estranged and far more prosperous sibling nation.

All of those who undertake this journey are desperate almost by definition. Many trials await them, especially during the overland route to China.

These journeys are typically managed by either rogue people smugglers, who charge several thousand dollars, or secretive Christian networks operating out of Seoul. Among Christian smugglers, this route is known as the “underground railroad”.

The clandestine leader of one of these Christian networks previously told PRI that “when [the defectors] first get out of North Korea, they look really shabby and skinny. We usually make them stay at a church member’s house [in China] for a month, just to eat.”

That’s how long it takes to put substantial meat on their bones. Painfully thin North Koreans, he said, are easily spotted by China’s surveillance network. Eventually, the refugees have to evade the eye of China’s officialdom as they travel on public trains and buses down to the border of Laos, a small communist nation in thrall to China.

Via trekking, river boats or more buses, the defectors must push through Laos to reach the Mekong River, which marks the border with Thailand. There, they can find the nearest police officer and ask to be arrested. South Korea will typically negotiate their release, fly them to Seoul, debrief and interrogate them and, finally, release the weary refugees into society.

[PRI]

North Korean defector ‘treated like dirt’ in South, fights to return

Kwon Chol-nam fled North Korea for China in 2014 by wading across a river border at night and then crawling over a barbed-wire fence. After a perilous trek that included walking through a jungle in Laos, he reached Thailand, where he was allowed to fly to South Korea to start a new life.

After all that trouble and danger, Mr. Kwon now wants South Korea to allow him to return home to the North.

“You have to ride a horse to know whether it’s the right mount for you,” Mr. Kwon said in an interview in Seoul. “I have tried, and the South is not for me. I want to go home to the North to reunite with my ex-wife and 16-year-old son.”

Mr. Kwon says he has grown disillusioned with life in the capitalist South, where he says North Korean defectors like him are treated like second-class citizens. “They called me names, treating me like an idiot, and didn’t pay me as much as others doing the same work, just because I was from the North,” Mr. Kwon said, his voice rising in anger. “In the North, I may not be rich, but I would better understand people around me and wouldn’t be treated like dirt as I have been in the South,” he said.

To press his unusual demand, he has held news conferences, submitted petitions to the United Nations and demonstrated with signs in front of government buildings in Seoul.

Mr. Kwon tried to find his own way back to the North, but that effort only landed him in jail in the South for a few months. Like all defectors, he became a South Korean citizen upon arriving here, and it is illegal for any South Korean to visit the North without government permission. Now, he is openly asking the South to repatriate him, only the second defector to make such an appeal.

More than 30,000 North Koreans have fled to South Korea since a famine hit their homeland in the 1990s. Of them, 25 have mysteriously resurfaced back in the North in the past five years.

[New York Times]

Increased rate of defectors who have fled North Korea arriving in Thailand

The number of North Koreans entering Thailand illegally has surged in recent months as increasing tensions on the Korean peninsula inspire people to escape the hermit state.

In all of 2016, 535 North Korean defectors arrived in Thailand. But in just the first six months of this year saw 385 arrivals, according to data from the country’s immigration bureau.

One immigration official said: “An average of 20 to 30 North Koreans arrive each week now in northern Thailand alone.”

Roongroj Tannawut, a district official of Chiang Khong district in northern Thailand, said:  “The North Koreans come to Thailand to get arrested so they will get an asylum to South Korea.”

After being arrested, most North Koreans are sent to an immigration detention center in Bangkok before being deported, usually to South Korea.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division, said: “Since the South Korean constitution recognizes all Koreans as its citizens, it is possible for Thailand to recognize South Korea as a legitimate destination to deport North Koreans.”

[Express]

North Korean defector reveals Office 39 inner workings

Ri Jong Ho, a high-profile North Korean who defected in 2014,worked for decades in what’s known as “Office 39.” The office is in charge of bringing in hard currency for the regime. Ri calls it a “slush fund for the leader and the leadership.” Some of Office 39’s profits also go to the country’s nuclear and missile programs

However, Ri told CNN “Office 39”, which has branches throughout North Korea, is not engaged in illicit activities He said that they were not under the purview of Office 39, but did not deny they occurred. (North Korea has been accused of crimes like hacking banks, counterfeiting currency, dealing drugs and even trafficking endangered species.)

Ri said much of North Korea’s hard cash is earned through exporting labor — the country sends workers across the globe and collects much of their pay, according to the UN — and exporting natural resources like coal, which China used to buy but has since stopped.

 

Analysts say Office 39 is likely now in the cross hairs of US President Donald Trump’s administration. The Trump team has made it clear that one of the ways it plans to deal with North Korea is to squeeze its revenue streams across the globe in order to pressure them into negotiations over their weapons programs.

 

Ri, who now lives in Washington DC, believes that secondary sanctions — targeting those who do business with North Korea — is the way to go, especially in China.

 

Beijing accounts for about 85% of North Korean imports in 2015, according to UN data, though Ri revealed that Pyongyang does import some oil from Russia. North Korean economist Ri Gi Song told CNN in February that China accounts for 70% of trade and that trade with Russia is increasing.

[CNN]

Defectors and Google Earth map decades of horror in North Korea

A Seoul-based non-governmental organization has used Google Earth technology to enable North Korean defectors to “build a digital map of crimes against humanity in North Korea.”

The Transitional Justice Working Group (TJWG) released a new report, the result of two years of research and interviews with 375 North Korean defectors, that identifies what it says are grave sites, murder locations and government offices that “may be used for future investigation and prosecution of crimes against humanity.”

Hangings, public executions, cremation sites, and remote burial sites are ostensibly identified, said to be close in proximity to known detention facilities and labor camps. “The majority of burial and killing sites identified were in North Hamgyong Province, which borders China,” the report notes, acknowledging that 221 of the 375 people interviewed came from this province.

North Korean defectors identified 47 “body sites.” The researchers used this term because, they said, “While the majority of these sites are burial sites, some of those identified by interviewees were sites where the bodies were not buried but rather abandoned, dumped, hidden without burial, or were storage sites for bodies yet to be buried or cremated.”

Defectors would describe atrocities they had knowledge of, allowing the researchers to note the locations. They also categorized the source’s relationship to the location or the event, indicating if they were physically present, heard or saw directly, heard straight from a victim or heard only as a rumor. The data collected spans decades – not just Kim Jong Un’s current bloody reign, but that of his father Kim Jong Il, the former Supreme Leader, as well.

In the findings, researchers noted that the project is not endeavoring to “establish individual criminal responsibility of given actors, but rather to expose in a transparent manner the extent of the violations committed and their systematic nature. …It is our intention,” states the report, “to provide our data to the relevant legal authorities at a time when we expect the necessary criminal investigation to take place.”

[Fox News]