Elderly couple in North Korea lose their home after making call to China

Hyesan, Ryanggang Province
Hyesan, Ryanggang Province. Image: Daily NK

An elderly couple living in Hyesan, Ryanggang Province, was arrested by North Korean officials for placing an international call through China’s telecommunications network, North Korean sources report.

“The couple lived in Hyesan’s Songhu district and used a Chinese mobile phone to make an international call. They were arrested in their house and interrogated by the Ministry of State Security (MSS) for a month,” a source in Ryanggang Province told Daily NK. “While they were being interrogated, the authorities permitted an honorably-discharged soldier and his family to move into their house.”

The retired couple, who were both in their 60s, were well-off despite not being involved in business. Many people suspected they were receiving financial assistance from their daughter, who had gone missing several years ago. The MSS had been monitoring them for some time, the source said.

About a month after the arrest, two MSS agents went to the house to remove their personal belongings. Several days later, the soldier and his family moved into the house.

A separate source in Ryanggang Province spoke to a local MSS agent who said that the couple was suspected of handing over “internal information” to people living abroad in what amounted to “anti-state activity.” The agent noted that the couple would “never be able to return home.” North Koreans who leak “internal information” abroad face punishment under the country’s Criminal Law Article 62 (Treason against the Fatherland) or Article 63 (Espionage).

“The military family moved into the house and nobody had ever seen them before,” she said. “The soldier himself suffers from bad vision due to an eye injury that he received in the military and the party gave his family the house to live in.”

She noted that the house still contained most of the former occupants’ belongings, including a TV, refrigerator, rice cooker, and water heater.

“The soldier and his family got really lucky because the house is the nicest in the area,” she added.

Local residents, however, have expressed disdain for how the authorities dealt with the elderly couple.

“People are saying that the couple lost everything in an instant for just making a call to China,” the source concluded.