A group of 41 North Korean refugees who had been arrested in China became the latest of their countrymen to be repatriated. Their repatriation took place amidst concerns about the severity of the punishments likely to be meted out by the North Korean authorities. According to a DailyNK report, the level of punishment varies depending on whether an individual is heading for South Korea or simply to China. Those who are presumed to be leaving North Korea for their own survival are sent to labor-training or re-education camps. Those who appear to be headed for South Korea are more likely to end up in political prison camps. Some, however, may face death.
According to defectors, the report continues, the local National Security Agency categorizes new arrivals according to their purpose of defection and what activities they conducted while in China. The first of four categories is persons who are judged to have had direct contact with a South Korean agent from the National Intelligence Service or Defense Security Command. They are defined as spies, executed, and their immediate family members are sent to one of the NSA-run political prison camps. Those who are not immediate family members (sons-in-law, daughters-in-law, etc) are required to divorce in order to leave the family, and are then exempted from the punishment.
The second category is “impure foreign contact,” and refers to those who have had contact with religious groups, human rights organizations, or others engaged in anti-state activity. Such defectors are also sent to political prison camps, but their family members are not punished.
The third category is those who the authorities believe were caught attempting to go to South Korea. Such people are sent to political prison camps. Recently, it has been alleged that North Korean defectors are being exclusively interned at Camp No.22 near Hoiryeong in North Hamkyung Province, with family members being sent into internal exile in remote areas. According to the DailyNK, many South Korea-bound defectors may have escaped severe punishment and then later re-defected by either managing to avoid admitting the true purpose of their escape or bribing NSA agents to keep quiet.
Meanwhile, those in the fourth category, those who are judged to have crossed the border for economic or other “pure” reasons, are sent to labor-training camps. This used to be a six-month sentence, but in 2009 it was raised to one year for the first offense and two years for the second.
In order to preserve his regime, Kim Jong-Un has taken a hostile stance toward defectors. Recent reports from internal sources suggest that he has ordered harsh punishments as a warning to others, and is determined to see the family guilt-by-association system fully implemented for similar reasons. Therefore, it is reported that the recently repatriated defectors, whom the South Korean media announced were planning on reaching Seoul, will be placed in the third category. It is probable that not only will they be imprisoned in political prison camps, but that their family members may also be forced to join them.
On the bright side, the case has sparked diplomatic awareness. China claims that there is a lack of evidence that those repatriated are being punished. But, if the international community continues to demand to know these defectors’ identities, then North Korea is likely to feel the pressure. Even though North Korea never discloses personal information on repatriated defectors, the growing variety of other ways to access the information will make it difficult for the authorities to cover it up entirely. Yoon Yeo Sang of Database Center for North Korean Human Rights, a group which records testimony of human rights abuses for future application, commented to Daily NK reporters, “If North Korea were able to deal with them as they wished then harsh punishment could be expected, but because of intense interest from the international community even the North Korean authorities will have to be a bit careful.”
Father, we pray for these refugees as they face severe punishment in North Korea. For the believers, we pray that Your incomprehensible peace will fill them. Protect them, comfort and encourage them with Your presence. Give them opportunities to share the truth of Your Word with those who do not know You, and may the Spirit draw them unto Yourself. Soften the hearts of Kim Jong-Un and others in power that the gospel might spread across the land bringing about a revival of faith. In the name of Jesus who reigns, even over Kim Jong-Un, Amen.