Category: Prison Camps

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]

Australian student expelled from North Korea denies spying

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An Australian student who was expelled from North Korea denied on Tuesday that he had been spying on the authoritarian state while he lived there. Alek Sigley, 29, was released last week after being detained for several days, with Pyongyang later accusing him of promoting propaganda against the country online.

“The allegation that I am a spy is (pretty obviously) false,” he wrote on Twitter, adding that he was “well both mentally and physically”. The tweets were the first comments addressing the incident from Sigley, who speaks fluent Korean and had been one of just a handful of Westerners living and studying in North Korea. His disappearance, which prompted deep concern about his fate, came just days before a G20 summit and a landmark meeting between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

After he was released and flew to Japan, North Korean state media published a report saying the country had deported the student for spying.

“I may never again walk the streets of Pyongyang, a city that holds a very special place in my heart,” Sigley, who speaks fluent Korean, tweeted Tuesday. “I may never again see my teachers and my partners in the travel industry, whom I’ve come to consider close friends. But that’s life.”

From the capital, Sigley organized tours to the country and ran a number of social media sites which posted a stream of apolitical content about life in one of the world’s most secretive nations. His blog posts focused on everyday Pyongyang — from the city’s dining scene to North Korean app reviews.

He also wrote columns for specialist website NK News, which North Korean state media called an anti-regime news outlet in its report on Saturday.

[AFP]

Human rights related to North Korean nuclear talks Part 1

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Young-jun Park recalls life in North Korea as defined by deprivation. Food shortages that wrought starvation. The lack of health care that brought more death. Park and his family eventually found their way to Seoul. In the ensuing years, he finished high school and graduated college, and he now works at a nonprofit funded by the South Korean government that assists North Korean refugees. “North Koreans are struggling so much,” Park says.

Reports from Human Rights Watch and the U.N. show that little progress on human rights has occurred in North Korea since Mr. Park fled in 2009, or in the five years since a U.N. investigation found that its government had committed “a wide array of crimes against humanity.”

The state-imposed violations include forced labor for adults and students, torture and execution of political prisoners, and pervasive abuse of women, children, and people with disabilities. Civil liberties enshrined in the country’s constitution – freedom of speech, religion, and the press – remain a mirage.

The funneling of state resources into weapons programs, coupled with a poor harvest season and the impact of international sanctions, has created a food crisis for some 10 million North Koreans, 40% of the population. Human rights advocates warn of a recurrence of the mid-1990s famine that killed as many as 3 million people if conditions fail to improve.

North Korea has enlisted China’s help to stop the flow of refugees – the Chinese government sends back defectors as a matter of policy – and those arrested face punishment ranging from indefinite prison terms to the death penalty. Even so, desperate to find freedom, thousands attempt to flee every year.

“They know there’s no future in North Korea,” says Gyoung-bin Ko, president of the Hana Foundation. “They want to give a better life to their children.” Read more

Human rights related to North Korean nuclear talks Part 2

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Recent reports from Human Rights Watch and the United Nations confirm that a thriving North Korea exists only in propaganda promoted by President Kim Jong Un. Yet as U.S. and South Korean officials seek to persuade him to halt North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, they have seldom broached the issue of human rights.

The omission has drawn scrutiny from advocates as much for the proximity and shared history of the countries as for South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s background as a human rights lawyer. Chung-in Moon, a special adviser to President Moon, asserts that pushing human rights to the fore would sink negotiations.  “You can’t raise human rights with North Korea. If you do, they won’t listen after that,” Chung-in Moon says. He views defusing the nuclear threat as a necessary first step. “Once we solve that, then we can address the issue of human rights, and North Korea will be more open to doing its part.”

Brad Adams, executive director of the Asia division for Human Rights Watch, considers the silence from U.S. and South Korean officials on North Korea’s living conditions a form of abandonment. “A nuclear deal might be good for the rest of the world,” he says. “But it won’t change the lives of the North Korean people one bit.”

The Hana Foundation, established by South Korea’s Ministry of Unification in 2010, provides an array of resettlement services to refugees. Mindful of the ministry’s oversight, Gyoung-bin Ko the president of the Hana Foundation, demurs on the subject of whether government officials should press Mr. Kim on human rights. He says simply, “We have a long way to go.”

“Peace will mean the end of sanctions and bring outside investment,” says Spencer Kim, co-founder of the Pacific Century Institute, a nonprofit policy and research firm. “That will be the biggest driver of human rights.”

[Christian Science Monitor]

No word on North Korean defectors apprehended in China

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Kim Jeong-cheol already lost a brother who tried to escape from North Korea, and now fears his sister will meet a similar fate after she was caught by Chinese authorities.

“My elder brother was caught in 2005, and he went to a political prison and was executed in North Korea,” Kim told Reuters. “That’s why my sister will surely die if she goes back there. What sin is it for a man to leave because he’s hungry and about to die?”

Reuters was unable to verify the fate of Kim’s brother or sister. Calls to the North Korean embassy in Beijing were not answered.

When another woman – who asked to be unnamed for her family’s safety – escaped from North Korea eight years ago, she promised her sister and mother she would work to bring them out later. Her 27-year-old sister was in a group of four defectors who made it all the way to Nanning, near the border with Vietnam, before being caught.

In January, their mother died of cancer. On her death bed, the mother wrote a message on her palm pleading for her remaining daughter to escape North Korea.

“It will haunt me for the rest of my life that I didn’t keep my promise,” said the woman, who now lives in South Korea.

Activist groups and lawyers seeking to help the families say there is no sign China has deported the recently arrested North Koreans yet, and their status is unknown.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry, which does not typically acknowledge arrests of individual North Korean escapees, said it had no information about the raids or status of detainees. “We do not know about the situation to which you are referring,” the ministry said in a statement when asked by Reuters. North Koreans who enter China illegally because of economic reasons are not refugees, it added.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on North Korea human rights,  Tomas Ojea Quintana, said Monday he has discussed the issue of detained North Korean defectors in China with South Korean officials.

[Reuters]

Chinese raids on North Korean defector safe houses

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A decade after leaving her family behind to flee North Korea, the defector was overwhelmed with excitement when she spoke to her 22-year-old son on the phone for the first time in May after he too escaped into China.

While speaking to him again on the phone days later, however, she listened in horror as the safe house where her son and four other North Korean escapees were hiding was raided by Chinese authorities. “I heard voices, someone saying ‘shut up’ in Chinese,” said the woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect her son’s safety. “Then the line was cut off, and I heard later he was caught.”

The woman, now living in South Korea, said she heard rumors her son is being held in a Chinese prison near the North Korean border, but has had no official news of his whereabouts.

“Raiding a house? I’ve only seen two or three times,” said Y. H. Kim, chairman of the North Korea Refugees Human Rights Association of Korea, who left North Korea in 1988 and has acted as a middleman for the past 15 years, connecting donors with brokers who help defectors. “You get caught on the way, you get caught moving. But getting caught at a home, you can count on one hand.”

At least 30 North Korean escapees have been rounded up in a string of raids across China since mid-April, according to family members and activist groups.

The increase in arrests is likely driven by multiple factors, including deteriorating economic conditions in North Korea and China’s concern about the potential for a big influx of refugees, said Kim Seung-eun, a pastor at Seoul’s Caleb Mission Church, which helps defectors escape.

[Reuters]

Chinese raids hit North Korean defectors Underground Railroad

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At least 30 North Korean escapees have been rounded up in a string of raids across China since mid-April, according to family members and activist groups. It is not clear whether this is part of a larger crackdown by China, but activists say the raids have disrupted parts of the informal network of brokers, charities, and middlemen who have been dubbed the North Korean “Underground Railroad”.

“The crackdown is severe,” said Y. H. Kim, chairman of the North Korea Refugees Human Rights Association of Korea.

Most worrisome for activists is that the arrests largely occurred away from the North Korean border – an area dubbed the “red zone” where most escapees get caught – and included rare raids on at least two safe houses.

An activist at another organization that helps spirit defectors out of North Korea said so far its network had not been affected, but they were concerned about networks being targeted and safe houses being raided.

“That is a bit of a different level, more targeted and acting on intelligence that they may have been sitting on to smash up networks,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity to protect the organization’s work.

Y. H. Kim, of the Refugees Human Rights Association, said the raids raised concerns that Chinese authorities had infiltrated some smuggling networks, possibly with the aid of North Korean intelligence agents.

“I don’t know about other organizations, but no one is moving in our organization right now,” he said. “Because everyone who moves is caught.”

[Reuters]

Hundreds of public execution sites identified in North Korea

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A South Korean NGO says it has identified 318 sites in North Korea that have been used by the government to carry out public executions. The Transitional Justice Working Group interviewed 610 North Korean defectors over four years for its report, documenting decades of killings, for offenses ranging from stealing a cow to watching South Korean TV.

Public executions took place near rivers, fields, markets, schools, and sports grounds, the rights group said. Crowds of 1,000 or more would gather to watch these executions, the NGO said in its report, “Mapping the fate of the dead”.

The report alleges that family members of those sentenced to death, including children as young as seven, were sometimes forced to watch the event. The bodies and burial locations of those killed were rarely given to their relatives.

Some public executions also take place inside detention facilities such as prisons and labor camps – where people convicted of political crimes are forced into physical work such as mining and logging. One defector held in a labor camp in the early 2000s described how 80 inmates were made to watch the killing of three women charged with trying to escape to China. They said a Ministry of People’s Security officer told the crowd: “This could happen to you.”

The report said executions are “a core method of inciting fear and deterring citizens from engaging in activities deemed undesirable by the regime”.

The vast majority of executions happen by firing squad, defectors said. This often involves three shooters firing three rounds each into the body of the condemned person. A smaller number of public hangings was also reported, though the NGO said they appeared to have been scaled back or even halted since 2005.

Ethan Shin, one of the report’s authors, told AFP that “it looks like the number of public executions is on a downward trend”, but that Pyongyang may simply be operating with more secrecy “as it seeks recognition as a normal state”.

[BBC]

Did North Korea execute top negotiator over failed Trump summit?

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Chosun Ilbo, South Korea’s largest newspaper, reported Friday that North Korea had executed a top negotiator involved in Kim Jong Un’s failed summit with President Trump in February, and punished a key aide.

Chosun Ilbo cited an unnamed, unspecified source as saying nuclear envoy Kim Hyok Chol was executed by firing squad in March for acting as a U.S. spy.

“Kim Jong Un is believed to have ordered the purge,” the newspaper reported, saying that the moves were intended “to contain internal unrest and mounting public dissatisfaction” after the North Korean leader failed to secure relief from economic sanctions during his second tête-à-tête with Trump in Vietnam.

Government and intelligence officials in South Korea said that they could not confirm the report. A representative of President Moon Jae-in cautioned local journalists not to jump to “rash judgments,” according to media reports. Friday’s report came from Kim Myong-song, a North Korean defector-turned-journalist who reports on South Korea’s unification ministry.

The report also said former military intelligence chief Kim Yong Chol, who hand-delivered a letter from Kim Jong Un to Trump, was sent to a labor camp near the Chinese border on similar charges, and another official who had also participated in working-level negotiations in the lead-up to the Hanoi summit alongside Kim Hyok Chol and the interpreter who translated for Kim Jong Un had been sent to political prison camps. (Kim Hyok Chol, the negotiator, was a former ambassador to Spain who only emerged as North Korea’s envoy in nuclear talks with the U.S. earlier this year.)

Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the Seoul-based University of North Korean Studies, said he was paying little heed to the reported purge.

[Los Angeles Times]