Category: Prison Camps

Outrage over 2 North Koreans sent back to North Korea

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Since the division of the Korean peninsula after World War Two, South Korea has offered safe haven to more than 30,000 of their North Korean brethren from the impoverished, authoritarian North. But when two North Korean men sought asylum after drifting across the maritime border in a small fishing boat this month, Seoul made the unprecedented decision to turn them away.

The case has reignited criticism that South Korean President Moon Jae-in, a human rights lawyer-turned-liberal politician, has pursued rapprochement with the North, including three one-on-one summits with the North Korean leader, at the cost of sidelining human rights concerns and opposition towards the regime. Under his administration, defectors and other activists have complained of being restricted from carrying out activism such as flying balloons carrying anti-regime leaflets across the border.

Lim Jae-cheon, a North Korean studies professor at Korea University in Sejong, said the repatriations marked a fundamental shift in Seoul’s policy toward North Koreans, who are all considered South Korean citizens under a ruling by the country’s Supreme Court. While South Korea has occasionally repatriated North Koreans at their request, it had previously never returned someone from the North after they had requested asylum.

“When two defectors come to Korea, they should be regarded as South Korean people and judged according to our law,” added Kim Jong-ha, a professor at Hannam University in Daejeon, South Korea. “Why were they expelled so quickly?”

A coalition of 17 rights groups in South Korea accused the government of denying the men due process and failing to provide “clear evidence” of their guilt, calling for a parliamentary inquiry into its handling of the case.

“You could punish the men to the full extent under South Korean law,” said Jung Gwang-Il, a prison camp survivor who runs the non-profit organisation No Chain, questioning the need to return the accused men to the North. “Nobody can trust an investigation that has them repatriated after three days.”

“The North Korean regime believes all defectors including me are heinous criminals, so now it looks like we all could be repatriated for this purpose,” Jung said.

In the Daily NK, a defector-run media outlet, Choi Ju-hwal, a former official in the North Korean army, said it was “very hard to accept” that three men had been so easily able to kill 16 of their crewmates without a weapon such as a gun.

Another North Korean defector Eom Yeong-nam said it was “absolutely certain” that the two will be executed in the North. “The North will probably execute them in public as a message to potential defectors – even if you flee to the South, you will end up like this,” he told the Post.

[South China Morning Post]

North Korean scam defection scheme

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North Korean leaders Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un have done a lot to deter defection, in collaboration with Chinese leaders Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping. As one such incentive, North Korea offers those rural Chinese who turn in North Korean defectors 2m3‘s worth of logs per defector captured on Chinese soil and repatriated.

Life as a North Korean defector is rough. Ms. Sohn, a 36-year-old North Korean woman, had lived in South Korea for four years when she had her husband decided to set up a scam defection scheme. They collected brokerage fees from North Korean defectors in South Korea, promising to escort their clients’ families from China to South Korea. But in actuality what they did after receiving the money was convene a total of 43 defectors in China and then arrange for North Korean Embassy officials to come and forcefully repatriate them back to the DPRK.

The couple was rewarded with a vacation in Pyongyang, before returning to their hometown of Hyesan. Upon their return, the people of Hyesan all cursed the woman when they found out what she had done to all these would-be defectors, with curses like: “A thunderbolt will strike that human-garbage devil for putting those innocent people in an unescapable political prison!”

The locals in Hyesan didn’t view the defectors as state betrayers, they simply grieved their fates.

The defectors themselves were dragged to a reformatory, this result planting within North Koreans deep grudges against the government.

[Written by Tae-il Shim, is a pseudonym for a North Korean defector who arrived in South Korea in 2018.]

Chinese asylum-seeker tortured for helping North Koreans escape

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A Chinese citizen drove back roads all day, all night and all day again, to transport a group of North Koreans – including two children – 1000km from the border town where he lived. And in a recently-released decision, immigration authorities have given the man protected person status in New Zealand because of his risk of being detained and tortured if he returned to China.

It heard he was taken in by Chinese police for questioning and released, and then men who he thought were North Korean agents followed him. “Over the next few days, [he] suffered several incidents on the road, in which the North Korean men tried to block him in or cut him off and stop his car. He managed to avoid them each time but they followed him.

“Four days after his first visit to the police station, [he] was again summoned to attend. When he did so, he was treated much more harshly. Initially, he was shackled into a chair in which his wrists and ankles were restrained in positions which quickly became uncomfortable. The police did not believe [him] and he was made to squat on the floor for some seven to eight hours, which caused him great pain, particularly in his lower back.”

When he was released, his son told him to leave and gave him an air ticket to New Zealand.

“[He] has consistently related a detailed and plausible account of being drawn into assisting the North Koreans, and subsequently being investigated about it,” the New Zealand tribunal said. “[He] has consistently related a detailed and plausible account of being drawn into assisting the North Koreans, and subsequently being investigated about it,” the tribunal said. “The narrative is brief in compass, but has been related with a wealth of detail.”

The tribunal found the man could be expected to be detained if he was returned to China and would likely be held in detention for some two to seven months. “During that period of detention, he will be at risk of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in an attempt to make him confess,” it ruled. “The use of torture in such conditions is widely acknowledged by reliable human rights monitors to be routine.”

The fate of the North Koreans is unknown.


Remembering Otto Warmbier’s death, Trump renews pressure on North Korea

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Is President Donald Trump dusting off his most potent weapon in what was his “maximum pressure” campaign to denuclearize North Korea, Pyongyang’s criminal human rights record?

In speeches before the United Nations, the South Korean National Assembly and in his 2017 State of the Union (SOTU) address, Trump had used the harshest language to expose the Kim regime’s atrocities against its long-suffering population. He told the General Assembly that “the depraved regime in North Korea is responsible for the starvation deaths of millions of North Koreans, and for the imprisonment, torture, killing, and oppression of countless more.”

Finally, the president showed that the Kim regime’s cruelty extends beyond its own people to its treatment of a U.S. citizen. He marshaled his administration’s diplomatic resources and his own personal energies to secure the release of Otto Warmbier, the American student held by Pyongyang for 17 months for trying to filch a propaganda poster as a North Korean souvenir.

Tragically, Warmbier was released in June 2017 only after he had been repeatedly beaten and tortured until falling into a coma; he died shortly after being sent home. Trump cited “the regime’s deadly abuse of an innocent American college student” in his U.N. speech.

Yet, last February, the president dramatically shifted his position on Kim Jong Un’s responsibility for Warmbier’s mistreatment and death. Asked about the case after his failed Hanoi summit with Kim, Trump stated that the North Korean leader felt “badly” about what had happened to Otto Warmbier and then went on to absolve Kim of responsibility. The Warmbier family was not so accepting of that explanation and expressed shock at the president’s statement: “Kim and his evil regime are responsible for the death of our son Otto. Kim and his evil regime are responsible for unimaginable cruelty and inhumanity. No excuses or lavish praise can change that.”

Nothing more had been heard about the case from the White House in the ensuing six months — until now. The White House announced last week that the president would host the Warmbier family for a Saturday evening dinner to honor Otto’s memory. In case the media failed to take proper notice, Trump used his joint press conference with Australia’s prime minister days later to recall how “horribly” Otto had been treated.

Trump’s decision to highlight it in a high-visibility public setting … could well have been him telling Kim Jong Un that America has not forgotten or forgiven the outrageous treatment and murder of one of its young sons — or the nature of the regime that carried out such a heinous act. Trump may well be hinting at a potential return to the broader focus on North Korea’s despicable treatment of its own people, not least including the millions held in concentration camps.

The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK), which helped arrange the 2017 White House meeting with North Korean defectors, this past week released its latest in a series of authoritative reports laying out the inner workings of the Kim regime’s system of oppression. HRNK’s work, and that of the United Nations human rights committee, have effectively made the case for regime change in North Korea in one form or another.

[Excerpts from The Hill by Joseph Bosco who served as China country director for the secretary of Defense, 2005-2006, and as Asia-Pacific director of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, 2009-2010.]

Contradictory impulses by North Korean leadership

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North Korea’s leaders have shown contradictory impulses when it comes to the influence from the South, pushing a narrative of Korean unification, even as they discourage cultural crosscurrents at home.

One woman in her late 20s who defected from North Korea last year recalls watching a video of a concert, shared behind closed doors in her hometown near the Chinese border. “Kim Jong Un clapped and cheered at the [same] performance, but we could only watch smuggled footage of it in hiding, because consuming South Korean music was still a crime that could land us in prison,” she said.

Another North Korean defector Han Song-ee recalls she was just 10 when she first saw a video of the South Korean K-pop group “Baby V. O. X.”

“At first it was so shocking and weird to see these ‘capitalist vandals.’ But as I listened to their music, I realized it was pretty catchy,” she said. Soon, she was hooked.

Han and her friends began to wear the colorful hot pants popularized by another South Korean group, “Girls’ Generation” – but only in their neighborhood, not the city center. Her father even became angry with her mother for copying the band’s hairstyle.

Han defected in 2013 and is now a well-known vlogger in Seoul, where she also appears on radio and television.

[San Francisco Gate]

We must find a way to care for another

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[Excerpted from The Catalyst] I come from North Korea. I saw people die of starvation, including my own father when I was 12 years old.

I am often reminded of the fact that choosing between eating and not eating is a privilege. In many parts of this world, people live in fear of dying from hunger.

The 1990s famine in North Korea took millions of lives, my father’s being one of them. My older sister was sold to a man in China. I lost my mom to a North Korean prison.

Then, it was just me, all by myself living on the streets. When I could not fall asleep from the bitter cold and hunger pains, I hoped that my sister would find me the next morning and wake me up with my favorite food. That hope kept me alive.

When I approached people in the food courts in the city markets, they would cover their nose and swat me away as though I were a fly. They called me homeless, orphan, and beggar. Some even called me human trash. Those words hurt me because I was also someone else’s precious son and brother. Before I had a chance to decide who I was on my own terms, my identity was defined by others.  

During this time, my dream used to be having a day where I could have three meals a day. I often wondered when I could eat; not whether I should eat. My parents and sister weren’t the most educated, but they did not fail to let me know how much they loved me. That simple knowledge of being loved kept me going.

Now, I am a former North Korean refugee living in the U.S., [one of the few] lucky ones.

Millions of refugees still suffer from constant threats to their lives, loss of human dignity, and severe shortages of food. Protecting refugees in these situations is costly. But failing to save them is even more expensive. When international politics leaves them unattended or neglected, we lose part of our humanity and civilization takes a step backward.   Read more

The plight of refugees matters to everyone

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Even for me, it’s impossible not to flinch when I hear or read testimonials of North Korean refugees. The report of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (COI) reveals how an imprisoned-woman’s baby was “thrown in the feeding bowl for the (prison guard’s) dog,” according to  a former North Korean prison guard’s testimony.

We cannot turn a blind eye to those who are destroying our very own humanity. And let me state a fact: being a refugee is not a crime.  

The number of refugees admitted into the United States, however, has been in sharp decline. Don’t get me wrong: America must make sure that refugees are not simply being dumped on our borders. At the same time, we should remain a beacon for people seeking freedom.

Fortunately, we have organizations that seek to save refugees. For example, Liberty in North Korea (LiNK), a nonprofit organization started by college students,  has rescued 1,000 North Korean refugees. We can all make a difference by joining organizations like LiNK.

By now you might be asking, why should we help people who live far away when we have our own poverty and socio-economic disparity at home? Unfortunately, there is no other way around this, but all lives are not only precious, their well-being affects our own well-being. As President Bush says, “how others live matters.” 

Living up to our moral responsibilities and principles is how we sustain and preserve our humanity. And improving the quality of other people’s lives, including those of refugees, helps our own lives.

[Read full article at The Catalyst]

American explains his CIA spy role in North Korea

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An American citizen whose May 2018 release was secured by President Donald Trump has detailed his experiences in a North Korean prison camp after getting caught spying for the CIA and the South Korean intelligence service.

Speaking with NK News, Kim Dong Chul said he spied for the CIA for around six years before being caught and sent to a labor camp, where he suffered torture at the hands of his North Korean guards. Kim, who once lived in Virginia was living in China before his arrest.

Kim confessed to spying soon after his arrest in 2015, admitting to supplying South Korea’s National Intelligence Agency with sensitive information. North Korean media at the time said the businessman was detained while “perpetrating… state subversive plots and espionage against” the North.

Kim told NK News that he had also been working for the CIA, passing along intelligence he was able to access thanks to his work at the Rason Special Economic Zone, which established by Pyongyang to encourage economic growth via foreign investment. The businessman described the information as “very significant,” and explained how he “filmed footage with a watch and used electromagnetic wave wiretapping equipment.” He was also tasked with recruiting double agents across the nation, with a specific focus on unearthing information regarding the North’s military and nuclear capabilities, Kim explained.

His last mission was to investigate a suspicious vessel at the Rajin port, identified as of interest to the CIA after being spotted on satellite images. The agency asked Kim “to take very close-up photos of it and figure out what it was being used for.” Kim delivered the information prior to being arrested in 2015. North Korean authorities said he was found with a USB stick containing military and nuclear secrets when he was detained in Rason, the BBC reported in 2016.

Kim detailed how his mental state and physical health quickly deteriorated under the pressure of torture and then forced labor. “I became a traitor overnight and was locked up in a forced labor camp,” he said. “I hit rock bottom.” Kim was beaten repeatedly and tortured in other ways as North Korean agents sought to uncover possible networks of fellow spies and double agents. The abuse left him partially paralyzed and even drove him to attempt suicide. Regardless, “I could not die,” Kim recalled.

After a one-day trial, Kim was sentenced to 10 years of hard labor at a prison camp, where he was kept isolated from fellow prisoners. Kim was eventually freed alongside Pyongyang University of Science and Technology lecturers Tony Kim and Kim Hak Song in 2018.


North Korean refugee: Why is the US, Spain punishing us?

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The following is authored by a North Korean defector, and a member of the Free Joseon, who was part of the group who entered the North Korean Embassy in Madrid on February 22, 2019:

I am a North Korean refugee. After being orphaned as a child, I faced hunger daily and fled alone as a young teenager to China before getting captured, repatriated and sentenced to forced labor and starvation in an internment camp. I witnessed public executions, suicides, and mass starvation, the everyday atrocities in an evil totalitarian regime.

I am grateful to have experienced freedom and a full stomach. My friends and family and millions of my countrymen have not experienced such luxuries. The world has forgotten them.

When I learned of the existence of the North Korean dissident group  Provisional Government of Free Joseon, I was overwhelmed with joy and relief. Finally, I had discovered a group of people who felt a personal responsibility to stop the crimes against humanity in my homeland. …I found my purpose and my destiny: to use the privileges I had been given as an adult to help save those left behind. Those who still live in the hell I was freed from.

Fast forward to February 2019. I was at the North Korean embassy in Spain to help a North Korean diplomat defect. Stepping inside the embassy was like being transported back to North Korea. The walls were lined with propaganda singing praises to North Korea’s leaders. Each room had portraits of the leaders – watching your every move and thought, peering into your soul. … They were the faces of the leaders who had driven their people into poverty, oppression and starvation. Men who turned us into animals while growing fat off luxury goods and threatening the world with nuclear weapons.

I stepped on a chair, raised the portraits of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, turned and smashed them on the ground. I cannot explain how that felt. It was as though I was striking a blow on behalf of millions upon millions of my people, dead, alive or yet unborn, against this evil injustice. The sound of the shattering glass felt as though the chains in my heart also shattered.

These men [Adrian Hong and Chris Ahn] are heroes. They and their families deserve better. Somehow, the United States is now hunting us on behalf of Pyongyang, via Spain. …I cannot fathom why Spain would take North Korean testimony at face value and issue arrest warrants. If the intent was simply to harm or steal, why not leave in minutes? Would a group seeking to attack or raid use their own passports, enter via the front gate in the middle of broad daylight with neighbors walking around, and stay for five hours?

I ask the Spanish courts to drop the charges against these men. I ask the United States to deny extradition.

[Read full article at Fox News Opinion]

Ex-Marine accused by Spain of North Korean embassy break-in freed on bail

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A former U.S. Marine accused of breaking into North Korea’s embassy in Madrid and assaulting diplomatic personnel was freed on $1.3 million bond in Los Angeles on Tuesday. As a condition of his release, Christopher Ahn must confine himself to his home in the Los Angeles suburb of Chino Hills ahead of his possible extradition to Spain and must wear an ankle monitor. Ahn can only leave his home for medical appointments and church.

Spanish authorities have charged Ahn, 38, who spent six years in the Marines and served in Iraq, with breaking into the North Korean embassy with five others on February 22. They said the group beat some embassy staff and held them hostage for hours before fleeing. The charges include breaking and entering, robbery with violence and causing injuries, according to U.S. court documents.

Ahn is said to be a member of Free Joseon, or the Cheollima Civil Defense, an activist group which supports North Korean defectors and seeks to overthrown North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Two people allegedly involved in the embassy incident are still at large, including Adrian Hong, a Mexican national and longtime U.S. resident who is the purported leader of the group.

Attorneys for Free Joseon said the allegations of violence are lies from Kim’s diplomats, who they say made up the story to save their own skins. They claim the group members were invited inside and that there were no problems.

Video obtained by Fox News shows the activists walking into the embassy and chatting with a member of Kim’s diplomatic corps. One activist takes official photographs of Kim and his father Kim Jong II from a wall and smashes them on the floor.

Ahn was arrested by U.S. agents in April in Los Angeles. His actions have made him a target of the Kim regime, the magistrate said in an order conditionally granting him bail. “The F.B.I. has confirmed that the North Korean government has threatened his life,” the judge wrote. “He is apparently the target of a dictatorship’s efforts to murder him.”

[Fox News]