North Korean defectors ripped off trying to send money to relatives

A few months after fleeing her destitute homeland for a more decent life in South Korea, North Korean defector Park received a tempting offer: Someone who could transfer money to her family in the North for a commission fee.

Haunted by memories of her three starving children and old mother living in Hyesan in the country’s far north Ryanggang Province, the 44-year-old defector eagerly handed over 20 million won ($17,900) to a broker — only to find out a month later not a single penny had reached her family.

“It is just outrageous to think that other defectors like me could easily fall prey to this kind of fraud, getting their savings wiped out,” says Park.

According to a 2016 survey from the Seoul-based Database Center for North Korean Human Rights, around 58.5 percent of 400 surveyed defectors in South Korea have sent money home. Twenty-six percent said they did so last year, with the average remittance being about 2.35 million won ($2,100).

With a growing number of new arrivals falling prey to such scams, the Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs and defector support, has expanded related education and set up a 24-hour hotline manned by officials at the Hanawon resettlement center. Most defectors are mandated to undertake a three-month training period there as soon as they admitted to South Korea.

Most defectors are not high-income earners, with their average monthly wages hovering around 1.5 million won ($1342/month).

[The Korea Herald]

The awakening of the North Korean people

From an interview with Kang Chol-hwan, who was detained in a North Korean concentration camp for 10 years, along with his family, as political criminals simply due to the fact that they had lived in Japan:

What is it like inside a concentration camp? It is very similar to the Soviet and Nazi camps made by Stalin and Hitler in the way they systematically kill the people.Children, women and even elderly people were imprisoned as political criminals, and are made to do inhumane hard labor on minimal food supplies.

But North Korea also has unique systems: a transfer system where the children inherit their parents’ “crimes”, and a three-generation wipe-out system where they kill the parents, children and their children altogether.

What is necessary for the democratization of North Korea? First, we need to ask China to stop the forced deportation of North Korean defectors. If they stop doing this, more people in North Korea will begin to openly seek democracy, and join in activism.

Secondly, we need to expand operations to send information to the west side of North Korea. There was a case in Romania where a citizen who got hold of outside information was able to bring down the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.

…North Koreans have begun to resist. For example, when the Tumen river flood killed many people last year, the people were furious that Kim Jong-un didn’t come to see the devastation that took so many lives. After seeing on world news that leaders visit disaster sites, the people changed their views.

This is why we continue to smuggle USBs that carry world news into North Korea. The awakening of the people is a weapon stronger than any other.

[The Liberty Web]

Christians in North Korea facing persecution on par with the Early Christians under Nero

Human rights activists told Capitol Hill lawmakers that Christians in North Korea are facing persecution that is likely “on par” with the level of persecution that the Early Christian Church endured under Roman emperor Nero.

The activists, convened by International Christian Concern, told lawmakers about the human rights abuses that Christians face. They also asked lawmakers to support a resolution to reauthorize the North Korean Human Act of 2004.

“Our colleagues in South Korea have thoroughly documented cases of religious persecution,” said Greg Scarlatoui, the executive director of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea.

“Organizations such as Database Center for North Korean Human Rights and the Korean Institution for National Unification [have] interviewed thousands of defectors who brought testimony of extremely severe religious persecution,” Scarlatoiu said. “Like other Communist leaders, as mentioned earlier, Kim Il-sung and the Kim regime has rejected religion as the ‘opium of the people.'”

“One can confidently say that it is the Kim family regime that has taken religious persecution, in particular the persecution of Christians, to a level, perhaps, on par with Nero’s Rome as well as the Assyrian, Greek and Armenian genocide of World War I or the Yazidi genocide today,” Scarlatoiu said.

[Pakistan Christian Post]

Defector reporter missing near China-North Korea border region

A North Korean defector reporter for the Daily NK website has been missing near the China-North Korea border region since Monday morning, two sources familiar with the case confirmed to NK News on Tuesday.

The source could not name the journalist due to the sensitivity of the issue, but said they have known Mr. A for a long time and that he has “no reason to re-defect back to the North,” adding it was possible he had been abducted by North Korean agents.

Yonhap reported that the missing reporter defected to the South in 2011, is 60 years old, works for “internet media”, and reportedly disappeared from Yanji, China on Monday morning.

The South Korean government is aware of the case and investigating the details, an official from the spokesperson’s office of the Ministry of Unification (MoU) told NK News.

[NK News]

North Korean defector: “I’m good at escaping”

“I’m good at escaping,” says Grace Jo, a slender 25-year-old who managed to flee North Korea and its authoritarian regime not just once but three times, though most of her family was not so lucky.

The first time Grace and her family tried to flee North Korea, she was about 7 years old.

“We walked three nights and four days,” she recalls. “We walked on unpaved roads, and we crossed many mountains until we reached the Tumen River” that separates North Korea from China.

A few months earlier, her father had been arrested and beaten by authorities for crossing the border to buy a bag of rice, and he died on the train taking him to prison. Her grandmother and two younger brothers died of hunger, and her eldest sister had gone off to search for food and never returned.

Living in the northeastern North Hamgyong province, Jo’s family had been trying to survive on wild fruit, crickets and tree bark. Once, she said, she and her little brother would have nothing to eat for 10 days.

But crossing the border did not put an end to their problems. In China, Pyongyang’s main ally, her family’s three survivors were forced to go underground for fear of being sent back to North Korea. Eventually, they were caught, jailed and sent back home.

They managed to flee once again after Jo’s mother bribed a border guard, but once again they were caught and returned.

In 2006 she made her third — and final — escape, this time thanks to an American-Korean pastor who paid members of the Bowibu, North Korea’s omnipotent secret police, $10,000 to secure the three women’s freedom. [continued]

Trump urged to take in more North Korean refugees

After receiving U.N. refugee status, Grace Jo’s remaining family moved to the United States in 2008, and Jo has since acquired American citizenship — an unlikely turn of events for someone who was taught that “Americans are the biggest enemy” and “we should kill them or report to the officials if we see them.”

Today, Jo is vice president of NKinUSA, an organization founded by her sister to help other North Korean defectors.

“We want President (Donald) Trump to accept more North Korean refugees in the U.S. and allow us to provide resettlement services,” she said.

“Also, President Trump, please tell China, Vietnam and Laos to stop repatriating the refugees. Sending them back to North Korea is returning them to torture, imprisonment or even death,” she added.

Jo says that while the country’s pursuit of nuclear weapons is certainly a potential problem, the millions of people scrabbling to eat enough, “and millions more living with no liberty of any kind, is an actual problem.”

[Japan Times]

North Korean military obligations

Watching footage of April’s military parades in North Korea — with soldiers marching in formation to patriotic tunes — Lee So-yeon recalls all the steps. She was once one of those soldiers.

The daughter of a university professor, Lee, now 41, grew up in North Korea’s North Hamgyong province. But when famine devastated the country in the 1990s, women — including Lee — volunteered for the military in droves, often for the food rations.

Since 2014, North Korean women have been drafted for seven years of mandatory military service. Men serve 10 to 12 years. For each gender, those are the longest conscription terms in the world.

In the military, Lee says, she witnessed sexual abuse and violence against female soldiers. She tried to defect but was imprisoned and tortured. Finally, in 2008, she managed to sneak across the Tumen River to China.

“I was shocked by freedom — that I didn’t need permission to do anything!” Lee recalls. “I couldn’t believe there was hot water, hair dryers! I could vote for whomever I wanted. And all the food!”

Lee has since become an advocate for female defectors as head of the New Korea Women’s Union, based in western Seoul.

[NPR]

Defectors reflect on North Korean mental conditioning

From Lee So-yeon’s time in the military, she is able to offer insight into what the North Korean government wants its own people to know. When she was a soldier, state TV blasted nonstop in her office, she says.

“There’s a TV in every army barracks. When there was a nuclear test, state TV told us to feel proud, so we did,” Lee says. “Even when there were peace talks between North and South Korea, state TV told us it was a ploy by the South to take over our country.”

The media in North Korea do not merely report information. Instead, they’re a tool for the regime to stir emotion, especially when it feels threatened — as it does now, says Jeon Young-sun, a professor of North Korea studies in Seoul.

“Outside pressure on North Korea — sanctions or threats of attack — actually help the regime win domestic support,” Jeon says. “North Korea is as always on the defensive, and fear rallies people around their Dear Leader.”

It’s not just soldiers. Defector Lee Hyeonseo was a high school student in 1994, when the Clinton administration came close to a pre-emptive military strike on North Korea’s nuclear facilities. Her school ended classes and sent the students out digging trenches for months.

“We were so scared at the time. We really thought we were going to have a war,” says Lee, 36. “Somehow, we believed we were going to win that war, because our dear leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, they were superior gods who can make everything happen.”

[NPR]

Cybersecurity defector describes North Korea’s ‘hacker army’

North Korea has an army of up to 3,000 trained hackers and is “100%” capable of having launched the “WannaCry” ransomware attack that paralyzed businesses and government agencies, according to a computer professor who defected from the country.

Kim Heung-kwang, founder and director of North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity, a nonprofit organization promoting North Korean defectors’ rights, told the Nikkei Asian Review that the rogue state has world-class software engineering talent and technology, which it has been nurturing since the 1960s.

“Some people downplay North Korea’s computer technology, but they have top-class software technology manpower,” Kim said during an interview at his office in eastern Seoul. “If you ask me whether they are able to attack using ransomware — yes, 100%.”

Kim was a professor at Hamheung Computer Technology University before he crossed the Tumen River, which marks the border between North Korea and China in 2003 and then came to South Korea in 2004.

Kim said the North Korean government has developed an army of hackers, or “information warriors,” in part to attack “enemies.” But the North’s key interest, he said, is financial. Pyongyang earned $1.5 billion from hacking and other cyber activities in 2016, up from $1 billion a year earlier, making cyber activities a major source of foreign currency for the Kim Jong Un regime.

Pyongyang therefore gives hackers special treatment, Kim said. “Information warriors are treated very well. They are offered nice apartments in Pyongyang, given medals and awarded compensation. They are promoted quickly and allowed to join the [country’s ruling] Workers’ Party.”

He said about 500 top secondary school students are selected as potential hackers every year and sent to college, where they learn computer languages and are put through rigorous training. Some are even given the chance to study abroad in China and Russia — benefits beyond the reach of most North Koreans.

[Nikkei Asian Review]

CIA Director met high-level North Korean defector Thae Yong Ho

CIA Director Mike Pompeo discussed the potential for fomenting an insurrection against the Kim Jong Un regime in North Korea with a high-level defector, according to U.S. intelligence officials. The meeting between Pompeo and Thae Yong Ho, one of the highest-ranking North Korean officials to defect to South Korea, took place during the CIA director’s visit to South Korea earlier this month. Thae worked as a senior diplomat in the North Korean embassy in London and defected in the summer of 2016.

During the session with Thae, Pompeo discussed whether conditions inside North Korea were ripe for an uprising against Kim by the military, security, or political officials, according to intelligence officials familiar with the meeting. Thae responded that he believed conditions within North Korea were conducive to such an insurrection.

In January, Thae, the defector, told reporters in Seoul the Kim regime is “crumbling” and efforts to control outside information from penetrating the closed system were failing due to official corruption and growing discontent.

Thae advocates using information to break the North Korean regime’s control of outside news to help ordinary citizens overthrow the regime.

Bruce Bechtol, a former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst, said Kim Jong Un’s hold on power is weaker than that of his father, Kim Jong Il, who in turn did not have the same grip on power his father, North Korean founder Kim Il Sung. “Because of Kim’s weaker hold on power than his predecessors, and the powerful internal security services, it is most likely that any insurrection is going to come from members of the elite—not from the bottom up,” he said.

[Washington Free Beacon]