A Human Rights Watch report detailed a mass surveillance app being used by Chinese police in Xinjiang to monitor the movements and activities of the territory’s Uighur Muslims, including the hundreds of thousands—if not millions—of those being held in political “re-education” facilities. In effect, the app allows the police to monitor the Chinese people’s every move.
As the data passes through the app, it screens and analyzes for so-called suspicious activity. According to the Human Rights Watch, “suspicious activity” encompasses actions as benign as leaving one’s house via the back door rather than the front–or any behavior that breaks from daily activities.
China’s embrace of oppressive surveillance technology will doubtless affect more than just its Muslim population. One especially vulnerable group is North Korean refugees.
While the total number of North Korean defectors currently in China are unknown, some estimate that between 100,000 to 300,000 currently remain in hiding. Nearly all refugees from the North must pass through China in order to reach ultimate freedom in South Korea. These refugees rely on underground networks—primarily made up of Christian missionaries and smugglers—to guide them along their treacherous journeys.
Escape from the brutal Kim regime depends on anonymity, invisibility, and use of the underground system. Invisibility is essential due to Beijing’s agreement with Pyongyang to repatriate all North Koreans found in China. Upon repatriation, North Koreans who accept help from missionaries or who convert to Christianity while in China face particularly harsh treatment. The Commission of Inquiry noted that refugees are usually asked whether they had contact with Christian missionaries; those who did face harsher consequences. The Commission report found that Christians are uniquely persecuted among religious groups in North Korea. Open Doors USA has identified Pyongyang as the world’s worst persecutor of Christians.
A 2014 report from the United Nations Commission of Inquiry documented systematic repression of North Koreans returned from China. Most are thrown in ordinary prison camps or political prison camps where they will most likely be subject to torture, malnourishment, and forced labor. Many pregnant North Korean women are forced to abort their children, often without anesthesia, sometimes by having a soldier stand on their pregnant stomach. Should the child survive the abortion, the mother may be forced to watch her baby be smothered to death. Conditions are brutal for all returned refugees, but they are especially grave for women.