North Korean defector floats leaflets with Kim Jong Nam news

A North Korean defector is packing balloons with information about Kim Jong Nam’s death and floating them north from South Korea.

Park Sang-hak, who says he defected in 1993 after picking up a leaflet sent from South Korea, told CNN he wants to show ordinary North Koreans the true nature of the country’s leader Kim Jong Un.

Kim Jong Nam was the eldest half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Malaysian authorities allege North Korean agents killed Kim Jong Nam by wiping the highly toxic VX nerve agent on his face at an airport in Kuala Lumpur on February 13.

“Even South Koreans were shocked to hear the news of Kim Jong Nam’s assassination,” Park said. “Can you imagine how North Koreans will react?”

News of the killing has likely gone unreported in North Korea, where the press is tightly controlled by the government.

Park hopes the leaflets, SD cards and USB drives will offer people inside North Korea a glimpse of the outside world, including Kim Jong Nam’s death.

Pyongyang considers it a hostile act and tells its citizens the leaflets are South Korean propaganda, defectors say.

[CNN]

Chilling challenge faced by female North Korean defectors in China

“In China, tens of thousands of North Korean women are hiding and living in fear of capture by the Chinese authorities,” said Lee So-yeon, a former soldier who fled her country in 2008 and is now a leading activist in South Korea.

Many of the women, she said, are sold to men in China with prices ranging from US$4,000 for women in their 20s, to US$2,000 for those in their 40s.

“The greatest fear for women who are forced to leave is deportation to North Korea,” she said. Those who are caught by the Chinese authorities and sent back face the prospect of punishment meted out in prison camps, correctional training centers or labor training camps.

Life is especially harsh for women who have become pregnant by Chinese men, with some of them facing execution, she said.

Lim Hye-jin left her country in 1998 during the famine crisis. Once she crossed into China with a broker she was forcibly married to his brother, before becoming pregnant and was later rounded up by Chinese officials while working at a market. After repatriation she escaped back into China, but was brought back to the North once again. Eventually, she made a third escape and arrived in South Korea in 2002, but without her daughter.

[South China Morning Post]

Understanding and engaging with North Koreans

Understanding what it means to be North Korean is crucial to answering the broader questions of state behavior. We have all heard the testimonies of North Korean defectors about the idea of juche and the personality cult of the Kim “dynasty,” but North Korea is not just its leaders, but also its people. Without an understanding of the people, dialogue with the state alone is set to make little progress.

While the North Korean state apparatus is all too aware of, and actively planning their next move against, Western pronouncements … we must not forget the people of the DPRK. They, like Kim Jong Un, are also far from naïve. Instead, they can be highly calculating, aware that they are not living in the “socialist paradise on Earth,” and, especially among the younger generation of middle-class Pyongyangers, possess a burning desire to develop their own careers, enterprises, and curiosity with the world outside the DPRK.

The 1990s saw the slow erosion of state ideological control. What was once an essential “social norm” of ideological obedience to the state became viewed as merely a “social necessity” by which to conform in public, and was clear evidence of the power of nunchi in individuals’ desires to be the masters of their own lives. VCRs and DVDs became the early fulcrums for questioning the extant state ideology. North Koreans could also obtain short-wave radios, and, instead of tuning to the usual state broadcast, could tune to news emanating from China and south of the 38th parallel. It was such banal yet pivotal moments that opened the minds of individuals living under the confines of the Kim regime to the outside world, a world that was not as poverty-stricken, nor abusive, as they were once told.

[Even] North Korean defectors still view the DPRK as their “homeland.” For many, Kim Il-sung remains the “Father of the Nation,” yet defection became the only route for a better future. A survey by Chosun Ilbo in 2014 discovered that amongst the North Korean defector community, 80 percent viewed Kim Il-sung favorably, in contrast to 19.5 percent for Kim Jong-Il, and a mere 9 percent for Kim Jong-un. This stark contrast between the “Father of the Nation” and the younger Kim in power today … shows that the DPRK is not a static country, the Kims are not three incarnations of one – be it one ideology, one mindset, or one ruling mechanism.

[Excerpts of a Diplomat article by Edward Howell, Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Oxford]

Two South Korean pastors arrested in China for assisting North Korean defectors

Two South Korean pastors have recently been arrested by Chinese police for providing protection for North Korean defectors in China.

One pastor was arrested on Feb. 18 with his wife and two children at an airport in the northeastern Chinese city of Qingdao prior to a flight to South Korea, according to the activist group “Justice for North Korea.”

The other minister was arrested with his wife at a hotel in the city of Qinhuangdao in China’s northern province of Hebei, it said.

“The arrested pastors are known to have insisted that they helped North Korean defectors as they were at risk of being repatriated to the North where human rights violations are serious,” said an official in the group.

The ministers were detained for helping North Korean defectors leave China, though their families were all released after two days of interrogation, he added. They are currently being held at a detention center in Liaoning Province in the country’s northeast, an official at Seoul’s foreign ministry said.    See also

[Yonhap]

North Korean defectors urge China to help people fleeing hermit state

Three North Korean women joined activists at a panel discussion in New York with the goal of pressuring Beijing to help defectors from the reclusive state rather than sending them back to face severe punishment.

  • Lee So-yeon, a former soldier who fled her country in 2008 and is now a leading activist in South Korea.
  • Lim Hye-jin originally defected from North Korea in 1998 during the famine crisis.
  • Grace Jo also fled North Korea, and wound up in the United States with her mother and older sister in 2008 after facing repatriation by the Chinese authorities.

The three North Koreans were among some 20 people who walked to China’s UN mission from the Armenian Church in Manhattan, where they had gathered for a panel discussion connected with the United Nations’ annual two-week Commission on the Status of Women.

The group attempted to deliver a letter addressed to President Xi Jinping, but was unable to do so as no one answered the door to accept it. The letter asked Xi to provide refugees coming into China from North Korea “safe passage to a third country”, urged him to cease returning them to North Korea and to work with the UN Human Rights Council to safely resettle them.

[South China Morning Post]

China arrests more than a dozen North Korea defectors

China may have arrested as many as 14 North Korean defectors in the last two weeks, according to multiple sources.

An activist who works with refugees told Yonhap news agency Friday that Chinese “traffic police” in the northeastern city of Shenyang detained seven defectors and one Chinese “broker” traveling in the same vehicle. They were arrested after an “inspection,” the activist said.

The arrests come at a time when China introduced a new requirement for intercity bus travelers, who must now provide their real names and proof of identification in order to purchase tickets, according to the source. The North Korean refugees were detained as they traveled in a small van and are at risk of being repatriated to their country of origin, the report stated.

A second source identified as a South Korean activist with a human rights group told Yonhap another group of three defectors was apprehended at the China-Laos border as they traveled in a private vehicle that may have been lent to them by South Korean missionaries. The activist said checkpoints beyond the immediate vicinity of the China-North Korea border have been “strengthened,” posing challenges for North Koreans who are trying to reach safety without proper identification.

A third source, who represents a North Korea defector group, said Chinese authorities arrested four refugees, including a child, at a city motel in Tianjin. “The police infiltrated their room, after tracking down their whereabouts, although it’s not clear how,” the source said.

In February, China may also have arrested two South Korean Christian pastors, according to Peter Jung, head of Justice for North Korea in Seoul.

[UPI]

China kicks out South Korean missionaries in unprecedented numbers

In the past few months, China has expelled dozens of South Korean missionaries from Jilin, a northeastern province that neighbors North Korea.

“Chinese authorities raided the homes of the missionaries, citing a problem with their visas, and told them to leave,” one human rights activist and pastor told Agence France-Presse (AFP). He said that most were on tourist or student visas.

There are about 500 officially registered South Korean missionaries in China, though some say the actual number could be as high as 2,000. Many gather in the northeast, drawn by the proximity of North Korea.

Pastor Kim Hee-Tae told AFP that 20 percent of the expelled Koreans were assisting North Korean refugees, and that 40 of the defectors had been sent back across the border.

China gave no reason for the expulsions. While some observers pointed to newly-tightened restrictions on Christians, most blamed China’s opposition to Seoul’s plan to build an American missile shield, THAAD..

[Christianity Today]

South Korean cash incentive for elite North Korean defectors

South Korea announced Sunday that the amount of money given to defectors from the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) will quadruple.

For defectors with sensitive information, the South previously offered $217,000. That figure will increase to $860,000 in a bid to gather more intelligence about its northern neighbors.

There has been no change in the amount offered to defectors for 20 years. “One of the biggest reasons why North Koreans are hesitant about defecting is because they are fearful of [how they would make a living] after they come to South Korea,”  reported the South Korean Yonhap news agency, quoting an anonymous South Korean minister, according to The Guardian.

The cash incentive is designed to encourage more people to flee south, especially North Korean elites. The amount of money given would depend on the quality of information, the article said.

“To be clear, the vast majority will not benefit from this ‘fee’. Only the North Korean elite will have secrets worth anything to the South Koreans,” says Aidan Foster Carter to Newsweek, honorary research fellow in sociology and modern Korea at the University of Leeds.

[Newsweek]

Diplomat defector compares North Korea’s Kim Jong Un to Roman emperor Nero

The senior North Korea diplomat who defected to the South from Pyongyang’s embassy in London described Kim Jong Un as a “21st century Nero” in a recent interview.

In an interview with South Korean newspaper Kukmin Ilbo, Thae Yong-ho said Kim Jong Un is a despot who cannot tolerate those who disagree with him.

Thae then provided an anecdote about Pyongyang Folklore Park, which he ordered destroyed after assassinating his uncle Jang Sung Taek, who managed the park.

“After [Kim Jong Un] killed Jang Song Taek, he said he kept seeing Jang’s face each time he passed the areas surrounding the folklore park and recruited military units to have the park destroyed.”

Thae compared Kim Jong Un to the Roman emperor Nero, who according to historical records began a fire in Rome to make room for a new palatial complex.

Thae said Kim Jong Un lacks trust in others and his existence was completely unknown to most North Koreans until 2009. The former diplomat also said Kim is not well rooted in North Korean society because he grew up in Switzerland, a background that amplifies his distrust of people in the regime, according to the report.

[UPI]

 How North Korean math-whizz defector escaped through Hong Kong

For Jong Yol-ri, the International Mathematical Olympiad in Hong Kong last year was his last chance for freedom. If the then 18-year-old, two-time silver medalist in the ­competition waited another year, he would be too old to take part, losing his chance to travel and ­escape North Korea.

Once in Hong Kong, Jong and other North Korean contestants were placed under strict surveillance. They could not use smartphones, had to relinquish their passports and were closely monitored by a team leader.

On July 17 last year, a day after the competition, Jong sneaked out of the dormitory at the Hong Kong University of ­Science and Technology, where the event had been held, and took a taxi to the airport. The student had planned his defection well before he left North Korea for Hong Kong.

Once at the Hong Kong International Airport, he approached staff working for a South Korean airline and told a manager that he wanted to go to South Korea. The manager then called the South Korean consulate and Jong was told that he had to take a taxi there by himself – protocol prevents diplomats from helping citizens from any country go into a foreign embassy or consulate.

Jong spent the next two months at the consulate, living in a small room, playing computer games and using a treadmill to exercise. “After staying in the consulate for a month, Jong became a bit uneasy, having no idea how long would he need to stay there until Beijing allowed him to leave for Seoul,” a source said.

In late September, Jong flew to Seoul with a new passport and a valid Hong Kong tourist visa. In Seoul, Jong took classes in South Korean language, culture, society and international relations. Next month he will start university.

[South China Morning Post]