Category: Prison Camps

What happens to North Korean defectors after being forcibly returned from China

Posted on by

Leaving North Korea without permission is a criminal offense. So North Koreans forcibly returned after fleeing face incarceration in political prison camps (kwanliso), ordinary prison camps (kyohwaso, or re-education correctional facilities), short-term forced-labor camps (rodong danllyeindae), temporary detention facilities (jipkyulso), or possible execution.

Research by Human Right Watch and other groups has found pervasive abuses and horrid conditions in North Korea’s political prison camps, including meager rations that keep detainees on the edge of starvation, almost no medical care, lack of adequate shelter and clothes, repeated mistreatment that includes sexual assault and torture by guards, and summary executions.

Yet China routinely forcibly repatriates North Koreans, labeling them as illegal “economic migrants”. Forcing North Korean refugees back to their country constitutes refoulement, that is, sending someone back to a place where they would face threats to their lives or freedom. As a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, as well as to the 1984 Convention against Torture, China is specifically obligated not to force back anyone who would be at risk of persecution or torture upon return.

For North Koreans who are returned, if not sent to political prisoner camps, authorities may instead impose sentences of 2 to 15 years of forced labor in ordinary prison camps. Inmates in ordinary prison camps face forced labor in dangerous working conditions, repeated mistreatment by guards, and little nutritious food or medical care.

A former senior official in the North Korean state security service (bowibu), who previously worked on the border and received North Koreans sent back from China, told Human Rights Watch that officials under his command tortured every returnee to find out where they went in China, whom they contacted, and what they had done while outside North Korea.

The 2014 United Nations Commission of Inquiry on human rights in North Korea found that crimes against humanity, including torture, execution, enslavement, and sexual violence, are committed against prisoners and people forcibly returned to North Korea from China.

[Human Rights Watch]

The road to life in South Korea was not an easy one

Posted on by

As a former North Korean military officer, Kim Yong-Hwa says he knows all too well the tribulations facing the thousands of defectors on the run for their lives from the repressive Kim regime of North Korea. Now in his mid-60s, he spent over nine years imprisoned in three different countries during his decade-plus journey to true freedom.

After being accused of disloyalty to an authoritarian regime, his journey began with the intention of committing suicide. But instead of taking his own life, Kim told The Christian Post that he ultimately discovered the truth that the Kim Jong Un regime had kept hidden from North Koreans — Christianity.

After walking through much of China, Kim finally arrived in Vietnam but was arrested there trying to climb onto a commercial vessel from South Korea. When only days away from being repatriated, he hit a Vietnamese policeman with a tray of food which landed him a two-year jail sentence in Vietnam. It was during this time, that Kim was exposed to Christianity through an interpreter.

He eventually made it to South Korea, but he was again imprisoned for three years on allegations that he was a North Korean “spy.” After two years in a South Korean prison, Kim eventually migrated to Japan where the Japanese government was also told that he was an “international spy,” and where Kim was then confined to a prison camp for three years.

He returned to South Korea in 2001, and in 2005, officially launched the North Korean Refugees Human Rights Association, a ministry that helps other North Korean defectors facing a similar situation in China find their way to safety. There are an estimated 230,000 North Korean defectors wandering around China at risk of being arrested and repatriated to North Korea, where they could face execution or life in labor camps for the crime of defection.

[The Christian Post]

Human Rights Watch speak in defense of North Korean defectors detained in China

Posted on by

China should not forcibly deport seven detained North Koreans who face a grave risk of torture and other abuses if returned to North Korea, Human Rights Watch said.

South Koreans assisting relatives of the group’s members told Human Rights Watch that the three women, three men, and a pre-teen girl in the group are being detained in Liaoning province. Some of the group left North Korea in recent weeks and others have lived for several years in China’s border area. Chinese authorities apprehended them on April 28, 2019.

“China should not send these seven people back to North Korea where they face torture, sexual violence, forced labor, and other horrors,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “Beijing should immediately allow them to travel to a third country.”

“China should end its complicity with North Korean rights violations by ending the practice of forcing back fleeing North Koreans,” Robertson said. “China should protect these seven North Koreans, both complying with its international obligations and sending Pyongyang a message that it won’t ignore North Korea’s abuses.”

[Human Rights Watch]

Activists urge China to not repatriate North Korean defectors

Posted on by

Activists have been urging China not to repatriate seven North Koreans who were detained in an eastern Chinese province after leaving their homeland. The group, which includes a nine-year-old girl, fled North Korea and were then detained by Chinese authorities in the northeast province of Liaoning, according to activists.

China regularly sends defectors back to North Korea, where they face punishment including forced labor, imprisonment, torture, or execution. According to a 2017 Human Rights Watch report, China has increased the number of guards and laid more barbed wire fencing along the border.

The nine-year-old girl’s mother, who left North Korea several years ago and now lives in South Korea, participated in a recent demonstration in front of the Chinese Embassy in Seoul. “I’m worried about my young daughter and her safety … it’s been three years since I’ve seen my daughter,” said the woman, her voice quivering.

Though not common, China has in the past released North Korean defectors. In 2018, China freed 30 defectors, following international pressure, according to South Korean media reports. Many activists complain North Korean human rights have become less of a priority amid negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

Though China has signed the United Nations refugee convention, it does not recognize North Koreans as refugees. It instead sees them as illegal economic migrants.

[VoA]

North Korean defector Oh Chong Song

Posted on by

It was a dash for freedom that was caught on camera and captivated the world: a North Korean defector being peppered with bullets as he tried to flee his authoritarian homeland at the Demiiltarized Zone. But in his first television interview with a U.S. broadcaster, defector Oh Chong Song said he does not blame his former colleagues for shooting him five times as he ran for the border in November 2017.

“In their situation I would have fired the gun. It’s not a matter of friendship,” he told NBC News on Monday, almost 18 months after his dramatic escape. “I understand them because if I were in their shoes I would have done the same thing.”

On Nov. 13, 2017, surveillance cameras captured the moment Oh smashed through a military checkpoint in a green jeep and raced toward the DMZ, members of his own unit chasing him down. Had he been caught, Oh says he “would have been either sent to a concentration camp for political prisoners or, worse, executed by firing squad.”

His escape bid crunched to a halt yards from the boundary as his jeep became stuck in a ditch. With the chasing North Korean soldiers almost upon him, he climbed out of the car and started to run, the border just yards away.

“I was extremely terrified,” he said. “I watch this video once in a while and every time I see it, I realize the fact that I am alive is a miracle. Even I can’t believe something like this happened. … I can’t believe it’s me in the video.”

The footage shows Oh running between two trees, just as several North Korean soldiers scramble to take up positions behind him and open fire. The hail of bullets tore through Oh, at least five shots hitting him directly.

It took a moment for South Korean soldiers to crawl to him and drag him to cover. “I did think that I was going to die as I was lying there,” he said. “At this point, when they were coming to rescue me, I was unconscious.”

Doctors who operated on Oh said it was a “miracle” he survived. Among those credited with saving his life was Sgt. 1st Class Gopal Singh of San Antonio, Texas, a member of the medevac crew who flew Oh to a hospital in Suwon, the South Korean capital.

“I am truly grateful to him and I hope there will be an opportunity for me to meet him,” Oh said. “If I do, I want to thank him in person for everything.”

[NBC]

My name is Prisoner 42

Posted on by

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

Posted on by

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.

[UPI]

Persecution of Christians in North Korea

Posted on by

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]

Trump lets Kim Jong-un off the hook for Otto Warmbier’s death

Posted on by

President Donald Trump faced a bipartisan backlash after saying he did not believe North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was responsible for the death of American student Otto Warmbier.

“I don’t believe he knew about it,” Trump said of Kim. “He tells me that he didn’t know about it, and I will take him at his word.”

Trump’s comments are a reversal from his past statements. In his 2018 State of the Union address, he criticized North Korea’s “depraved character” and blamed the country’s “dictatorship” for Warmbier’s injuries and eventual death.

Warmbier, 22, was arrested for taking a propaganda banner from a hotel while on a visit to Pyongyang in January 2016 and later sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. He suffered horrific injuries and died shortly after being released from 17 months of detention.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on Thursday called the president’s remarks strange. “There’s something wrong –with Putin, Kim Jong Un, in my view, thugs — that the president chooses to believe,” she said.

Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told Fox News, “Look, Otto Warmbier, they made a spectacle out of him to the world. Accusing him of being a traitor, a spy. And they executed him. The blood of Otto Warmbier is on the hands of Kim Jong Un. There is no doubt in my mind that he knew about it, he allowed it to happen, and the responsibility lies directly with Kim Jong Un,” he said.

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said Trump’s remarks show he believed an “obvious lie” by Kim. “Otto Warmbier’s bogus arrest and brutal murder was an international incident,” Warner said. “Of course, Kim knew about it. Apparently, the president of the United States is the only one who believes this obvious lie.”

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., accused Trump of flinching in front of Kim regarding the student’s death: “No American president has ever cowered in front of dictators like @realDonaldTrump,” he said in a tweet.

Rep. Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House intelligence committee, tweeted Thursday. “… accepting Kim’s denial of involvement in Warmbier’s death? Detestable, and harkens back to Trump’s duplicitous acceptances of denials from other dictators.”

“Americans know the cruelty that was placed on Otto Warmbier by the North Korean regime,” Nikki Haley, Trump’s former U.N. ambassador, tweeted Thursday.

Former Republican Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania told CNN that it was “reprehensible” that Trump gave cover to Kim regarding Warmbier’s death. “… This is reprehensible what he just did. I mean he gave cover … to a leader who knew very well what was going on with Otto Warmbier. And again, I don’t understand why the president does this, I am disappointed to say the least that he did it.”

Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, said it’s hard to believe that Kim didn’t know what happened to Warmbier, comparing it to Trump taking Russian President Vladimir Putin’s word over U.S. intelligence that Russia didn’t interfere in the 2016 elections. “I think the president is very gullible in this regard,” she said. “He seems to have a very odd affinity toward dictators … it is very odd, and I think it’s misplaced.”

[NBC News]

Defectors say Christians in North Korea face terrible persecution

Posted on by

While Donald Trump says there is a “good chance” of reaching a deal on North Korean nuclear disarmament, the plight of Christians in North Korea remains dismal, an Associated Press report revealed this week.

Defectors say Christians in North Korea face terrible persecution. Even Christians who stay deep underground face danger, defectors now living in South Korea told the wire service.

Defectors’ stories include that of Kwak Jeong-ae, 65, who said a fellow inmate in North Korea told guards about her own religious beliefs and insisted on using her baptized name, rather than her original Korean name, during questioning in 2004: “She persisted in saying, ‘My name is Hyun Sarah; it’s the name that God and my church have given to me,’” Kwak said. “She told (the interrogators), ‘I’m a child of God and I’m not scared to die. So if you want to kill me, go ahead and kill me.’”

Kwak said Hyun told her about what she did during the interrogations, and Hyun’s actions were confirmed to Kwak by another inmate who was interrogated alongside her. Kwak said she later saw Hyun, then 23, coming back from an interrogation room with severe bruises on her forehead and bleeding from her nose. Days later, guards took Hyun away for good.

Another defector said she only prayed under a blanket or in the bathroom because of worries of being caught. Another, who was jailed after being repatriated from China, where many Koreans took refuge during a 1990s-era famine, described praying silently in his jail cell after a hungry fellow prisoner shared some precious kernels of corn. “We communicated by writing on our palms (with our fingers),” he told AP. “I told him I was a Christian and asked whether he was too.”

Jung Gwangil, a North Korean defector-turned-activist, and one of the few who allowed AP to use his name in print, said he saw a man praying and singing hymns when they were held together at a detention facility in the northern city of Hoeryong in October 1999. The man was beaten frequently and one day was hauled away, Jung said. “While leaving, he shouted to us, ‘God will save you.’ I hadn’t encountered Christianity before at the time, and [at the time] I thought he was crazy,” Jung told the wire service.

 [Aleteia]