Tuesday, September 01, 2009

North Korea cracking down harder on defectors

In early May North Korea gave orders that no resident was to be allowed to flee the country. Chosun Ilbo resports that The National Defense Commission gave village-to-village indoctrination lectures on a massive scale. Anybody who crossed the Apnok (Yalu) or the Duman (Tumen) River without permission would be considered a traitor, villagers were told.

The Chongori reeducation center in North Hamgyong Province was reorganized to exclusively handle arrested defectors. It has reportedly turned into a living hell, where labor is much heavier than at ordinary reeducation centers, and where torture and beatings are routine.
One defector said, "Chongori is a living hell. Yodok (the notorious prison camp) is a much better place."

At Chongori, inmates are reportedly forced to work for 14 hours a day, and are only given two whole potatoes and a handful of cornmeal a day.

Until 2007, North Korea had categorized defectors into three basic groups. The first consisted of those who had gone into foreign embassies to get to South Korea, or converted to evangelical Christianity. If arrested, they had been detained at Yodok political prison camp. Most Yodok inmates had been sentenced to between 10 years and life in prison and were considered traitors.

The second group were those refugees who had spent an extended period in China without intention to return to North Korea, though not having attempted to flee to South Korea nor converted to Christianity.

The third group were categorized as "simple defectors" who fled the North simply due to a lack of food. Those in the second and third groups were sentenced to between six month and two years of hard labor.

But of late, anybody who crossed the North Korean border has unconditionally been sentenced to up to three years of forced labor at Chongori, under instructions that they are to be punished as traitors. Even those who have been caught while approaching the Apnok or Duman Rivers without good reason have been charged with attempted defection and put into the reeducation center.

North Korea is also cracking down on mobile phone carriers because they could help smuggle out information and encourage defection. Anyone trying to connect using a Chinese mobile phone is subject to the level of punishment reserved for defectors, whereas in the past, such people had been sentenced to three months' labor and a fine.

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