Monthly Archives: March 2019

Dissident group linked to North Korean break-in suspends operations

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A North Korean opposition group accused of a brazen raid of the North Korean embassy in Madrid last month announced that it is “temporarily” suspending operations in the wake of glaring media attention.

“Multiple actions targeting the North Korean regime were being prepared, but because of speculative attack articles in the media, the activities of action groups have been temporarily suspended,” the group, Cheollima Civil Defense, which is also known as Free Joseon, said in a Korean-language statement on its website. “We ask the media to refrain from taking interest in the identity of this group and its members.”

Earlier this week, a Spanish judge unsealed court documents related to the daylight embassy “assault,” as it was described by Spanish authorities, and named several individuals suspected to be involved including the purported ringleader, Adrian Hong Chang, a U.S. resident.

The assailants left the embassy with computers, hard drives and other electronics using embassy vehicles and, for Hong Chang and an associate, a ride-share car that had been arranged under the name Oswaldo Trump, according to the judicial report reviewed by ABC News.

On Tuesday, Cheollima Civil Defense claimed responsibility for the incident and apologized to Spain for involving the European nation in the group’s struggle against the North Korean regime.

“Our fight is only against the regime’s practices and on behalf of millions of our enslaved people,” reads a statement posted on a website that appears to belong to the group, whose involvement was first reported by The Washington Post.


LiNK founder heads shadowy group that raided the North Korean Embassy in Madrid

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On February 22 of this year, Spanish media reported that police investigated a group of unidentified assailants who raided the North Korean Embassy in Madrid, and reportedly seized flash drives, two computers, two hard drives and a mobile phone.

On Tuesday, the Spanish High Court released a document that identified Adrian Hong Chang, a U.S. resident, as the leader of the raid. He was said to have been wearing a jacket with a pin of Kim Jong Un, and tricked police who arrived at the scene into thinking that he was a member of staff at the embassy.

Once the Executive Director of Liberty in North Korea (LiNK), an NGO supporting North Korean refugees, back in 2006 Adrian Hong was arrested in Beijing when helping defectors escape through Liaoning, a Chinese province that borders North Korea.

Hannah Song, the CEO of Liberty in North Korea, told TIME via email that Hong co-founded the group as a college student, and has had no involvement with it for more than 10 years.

A group called Cheollima Civil Defense has since claimed responsibility for the incident on its website, and said it shared information “of enormous potential value” with the FBI under “mutually agreed terms of confidentiality.” But the group denied that any intimidation was involved, and said claims that individuals brandished weapons and attacked embassy workers were false.

Cheollima Civil Defense (CCD), which also goes by the name ‘Free Joseon,’ calls itself an “organization of refugees who escaped North Korea” that aims to “shake the Kim Jong Un regime.” Its sporadically updated website states that the group has “already helped many North Korean people” and expects nothing in return for its services.

Last week, CCD embedded a video posted to its YouTube channel of a person, appeared blurred on camera, violently smashing portraits of the Kim family. The video description read, “Down with Kim family rule! For our people we rise up! Long live Free Joseon!”

According to NK News, Hong served as head of the Joseon Institute from 2015, described on its website as a “think tank conducting policy-relevant research and planning” on North Korean affairs. The organization’s Facebook page was last updated in August 2017. Adrian Hong is also identified as the Managing Director of consultancy firm Pegasus Strategies, a human rights advocate and writer based in the U.S.

Hong has also written on North Korea-related topics for publications including New York Times, Foreign Policy and The Atlantic.

According to the court document, the assailants flew to Portugal after the attack. From there, they took a flight to New York. Hong, however, split from the group and flew to New Jersey. Spain has issued international arrest warrants against him and another suspect, Sam Ryu, who is a U.S. citizen of Korean descent.


Information from raid on North Korean Embassy offered to FBI

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A Spanish court says assailants , which included a U.S. citizen and another resident, who broke into North Korea’s Embassy in Madrid last month later fled to the U.S.

The leader of the plot fled to Newark, N.J., and offered stolen material to the FBI in New York. A spokesman for the FBI’s New York field office, Martin Feely, told NPR in an email that the FBI had no comment.

Late Tuesday, a Web site apparently associated with a secretive North Korean dissident movement called “Free Joseonpublished a statement claiming the group carried out an operation at the North Korean Embassy in Madrid. The Madrid incident occurred on Feb. 22, just days before the second summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Trump in Hanoi, Vietnam. That summit ended in a stalemate after the U.S. and North Korea could not agree on a deal.

In the afternoon of Feb. 22, the statement says, U.S. resident Adrian Hong Chang asked to see the business supervisor at the embassy before letting the rest of the group in. After several hours, the individuals took off in three embassy cars, carrying stolen pen drives, computers, hard drives and cellphones with them. The statement says the 10 alleged assailants split into four groups and immediately fled to Portugal, where they took flights to New York and New Jersey.

Spanish judge José de la Mata says Hong contacted the FBI four days after arriving in New York via Newark, allegedly offering to hand over material stolen from the embassy. The statement says he admitted to having perpetrated the attack on the embassy with a group of other, unidentified individuals.

The Free Joseon statement adds that, “The organization shared certain information of enormous potential value with the FBI in the United States, under mutually agreed terms of confidentiality. … Those terms appear to have been broken.”


North Korean dissident group claims responsibility for raiding embassy in Spain

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A shadowy North Korean dissident group claimed responsibility for last month’s raid on Pyongyang’s embassy in Madrid but disputed allegations that what occurred at the diplomatic compound was an “attack” involving armed intruders.

Cheollima Civil Defense (CCD), a secretive organization whose goal is to overthrow the Kim regime in North Korea, denied that any other foreign governments were involved in the operation or that it was related to President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un’s summit in Hanoi, which occurred days later.

“This was not an attack. …Contrary to reports, no one was gagged or beaten. Out of respect for the host nation of Spain, no weapons were used. All occupants in the embassy were treated with dignity and necessary caution. There were no other governments involved with or aware of our activity until after the event,” a statement released by CCD said.

The alleged incident, was carried out by 10 people who a Spanish judge says identified “themselves as members of an association or human rights movement for the liberation of North Korea.” The judge also said he believes the identified intruders, which include American and South Korean citizens, traveled to the US after the attack.

State Department deputy spokesperson Robert Palladino said Tuesday that the US government “had nothing to do with” the attack at the embassy. He also noted that the US “would always call for the protection of embassies belonging to any diplomatic mission throughout the world.”

The Cheollima Civil Defense first gained international recognition after it reportedly came to the defense of Kim Han Sol, the son of Kim Jong Nam. Kim Jong Nam, the elder half-brother of North Korea’s leader, was exposed to the deadly nerve agent VX in 2017 while entering an airport in Kuala Lumpur, killing him in minutes. “The Cheollima Civil Defense established credibility by acting quickly and getting Kim Han Sol, the son of Kim Jong Nam, within days of his father’s gruesome assassination,” said Sung-Yoon Lee, a professor at Tufts University Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.


North Korea threatens to suspend denuclearization talks with US

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North Korea is considering suspending denuclearization talks with the United States unless Washington changes its stance after the breakdown of a summit meeting in Hanoi between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, a senior North Korean official said Friday.

Kim Jong Un is set to make an official announcement soon on whether to continue diplomatic talks and maintain the country’s moratorium on missile launches and nuclear tests, Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui told foreign diplomats and journalists in Pyongyang, the Associated Press reported.

Choe said North Korea was deeply disappointed by the breakdown of the talks in Hanoi and that the United States had missed a golden opportunity there. She said Pyongyang now has no intention of compromising or continuing talks unless the United States changes its “political calculation” and takes measures that are commensurate with the steps North Korea has already taken, such as the 15-month moratorium on launches and tests.

“I want to make it clear that the gangster-like stand of the U.S. will eventually put the situation in danger,” she added. “We have neither the intention to compromise with the U.S. in any form nor much less the desire or plan to conduct this kind of negotiation.”

Trump’s counteroffer was widely seen as unrealistic. He tried to persuade Kim to “go big” and surrender his entire arsenal of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons in return for “a bright future” economically. Choe, who attended the Hanoi summit, said Kim was puzzled by what she called the “eccentric” negotiation position of the United States, but she said the North Korean leader still had a good relationship with Trump.

“Personal relations between the two supreme leaders are still good, and the chemistry is mysteriously wonderful,” she said, while accusing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton of creating an atmosphere of “hostility and mistrust.”

John Delury, an expert on East Asia at Seoul’s Yonsei University, said Choe’s comments could be seen as a response to Bolton’s threat to ramp up sanctions and did not mean the door to dialogue was closed. “This is each side reminding each other what’s at stake,” he said.

Nevertheless, the deterioration in relations has been a major blow to South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who has staked his reputation on closer ties with North Korea.

[Washington Post]

My name is Prisoner 42

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Anyone in North Korea who is discovered to be a Christian is quickly eradicated from society into detention centers, re-education camps and maximum-security hard labor prison camps known as the Kwan-li-so where political prisoners are often sent.

“Open Doors” estimates there are 250,000 imprisoned North Koreans—50,000 of which are political prisoners jailed for their Christian faith. Following, a North Korean prison camp survivor walks us through her difficult journey in a North Korean prison:

I was in China because I needed to feed myself and my family. It was there that I met some Christians. I was touched by them. They never really spoke about the gospel, but I participated in their worship services.

Then one day a black car pulled up next to me. I thought the man wanted to ask for directions, but the driver and other men stepped out of the car and grabbed me. I tried to get away, but they pushed me into the car.

After a few weeks in a Chinese prison cell, I was brought to this North Korean prison. The first day, I had to strip off all my clothes, and they searched every part of my body to see if I had hidden anything, money especially. They shaved off all my hair and brought me to a prison cell. 

The name I was born with was the first thing they took away from me when I arrived at the prison. Every morning at 8 a.m., they call for “42.” To get to them, I have to crawl on my elbows through the cat-flap. When I stand up, I must keep my head down. I’m not allowed to look at the guards.

Each day begins the same. I put my hands behind my back and follow the guards to the interrogation room. Each day for an hour, they ask the same questions: “Why were you in China?”, “Are you a Christian?”,  “Who did you meet”, “Did you go to church?”, and “Did you have a Bible?”

Every day, I’m beaten and kicked—it hurts the most when they hit my ears. My ears ring for hours, sometimes days. The space in my cell is so small I can barely lie down. It isn’t often that I get to lie down. They force me to sit on my knees with closed fists and never allow me to open them. 

[Read full story of this North Korean defector]

North Korea returns Otto Warmbier lawsuit

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North Korea has sent back a $500 million lawsuit to a U.S. District Court that ordered the Kim Jong Un regime to compensate the parents of Otto Warmbier for the student’s death in 2017.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia had issued a default judgment in December, ordering North Korea to pay $450 million in punitive damages to the estate of Warmbier and his parents. The remaining $50 million was to cover “pain and suffering,” economic losses and medical costs.

North Korea rejected the suit following its delivery to the foreign ministry, with Pyongyang denying responsibility for Warmbier’s death.

Otto Warmbier was arrested in Pyongyang in January 2016. The former U.S. captive had fallen into a coma by 2017, with North Korea claiming Otto Warmbier had contracted botulism, a claim that is under dispute.

President Trump has said he struggles with a “very, very delicate balance” between negotiations and being mindful of the Warmbiers.


Persecution of Christians in North Korea

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Estimates vary about how many Christians are in North Korea, but persecution watchdog group Open Doors places the number around 300,000, most of whom operate in secret networks of tiny house churches.

Christianity is illegal in North Korea and possessing a Bible, holding open religious services or making any attempt to build underground church networks can result in torture, lengthy prison terms or execution.

A North Korean defector, identified only as J.M., shared how he encountered Christianity after he fled to China in 1998. He was arrested by Chinese police and sent back home in 2001, and after serving several months in prison he attempted to share his faith with his parents. In 2002, J.M. escaped to South Korea so he could worship freely, and is today a Seoul-based pastor trying to promote Christianity in North Korea.

Pastor Peter Jung explains that his group provides shelter, food, and money to North Koreans visiting Chinese border towns. Before they return home, Jung said his group asks the North Korean visitors to memorize Bible verses or carry Bibles with them to share the Gospel with their friends and family.

Jung’s wife, Lee Han Byeol, also a North Korean refugee living in Seoul, recalled watching her father pray whenever her mother slipped into China. “I saw him praying many times. … My mom risked her life to go to China illegally to feed our family.” Lee said she didn’t know about Christianity at the time, as her father kept his faith to himself until his death in an apparent effort to protect his family.

According to statistics from the U.S. State Department, an estimated 120,000 Christians, defectors, and political dissidents are imprisoned in North Korean labor concentration camps where they face brutal torture.

[Christian Examiner]

Any impact of Trump-Kim summits on North Korea’s persecuted Christians?

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When President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un abruptly ended denuclearization talks in Vietnam, watchdog groups and other experts weighing in on the impact.

As far as the impact on Christians in North Korea, Justin Hastings, a University of Sydney professor of international relations and comparative politics, told Christianity Today the summit is unlikely to help Christians, only in the long term, because “Christian influence in North Korea is one of the North Korean regime’s fears.”

Open Doors USA told Fox News Christian persecution is worsening in North Korea, according to their sources on the ground. “Tens of thousands of people are in concentration camps because they professed faith or were caught owning a Bible. We have seen little change thus far,” David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors USA, said.

Jamie Kim, the chair of the Lausanne Movement’s North Korea Committee, believes further dialogue will result in Christian engagement. “Christians have led the way toward bridge building in the last 20-plus years, and the summit can potentially open the border between North and South Korea. While many of the Western NGOs and businesses have abandoned North Korea, it is the Christians who have stayed the ground.” Kim says Christians and non-profits should train and prepare for work inside the country should a door open in the next few years.

An anonymous Seoul-based researcher on North Korean affairs noted the United States’ travel ban preventing Americans from traveling to North Korea is not helping in a crucial need to expose the people to outsiders. “Any genuine transformation in the treatment of Christians in the country is unlikely to happen without a risky change in the regime’s approach to governance or, indeed, a complete change in the regime itself to a new government that allows freedom of religion,” the researcher explained.

[Fox News]

South Korean TV shows embolden North Korean defectors

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South Korean television shows that feature North Koreans have transformed defectors’ attitudes toward speaking publicly about their experiences and identity.

After studying fellow defectors and their relationship to South Korean media, Ken Eom said after three such television shows gained widespread popularity, defectors shed their old habit of silence. North Koreans on television are emboldening others to speak out. Beyond the money and the merits of a measure of fame, defectors are also motivated by an opportunity to “rebuild the credibility of the North Korean refugee community”.

“After the TV shows [began to be watched], defectors were no longer afraid to talk about their story in public,” Eom said during a presentation of his thesis. The defector, who is in his 30s, added the shows, sometimes geared to bringing on the laughs with light-hearted tales, are far from perfect; they’re not well liked by the defector community, with some defectors have been accused by other defectors of “fake testimonies” on television.

Eom asked his interview subjects what they thought about the shows. “It was very surprising,” said Eom. “They really hate those TV shows. But they also say it’s necessary. Without TV, nobody knows of the North Korean refugee.”

Eom feels South Koreans “really don’t care” about North Koreans. Stereotypes about the regime’s abysmal human rights record, its prison camps and nuclear weapons program, deeply hurt defectors. But the shows, despite their flaws, provide many North Koreans with a rare opportunity to present their stories and to “just talk about their normal lives.”

“It’s better than nothing,” Eom said.