Families with defector relatives facing heavy surveillance

Surveillance cameras installed on border guard posts in the Musan area of North Hamgyong Province. Image: Daily NK

The North Korean authorities are strengthening their efforts to monitor some families of defectors as hopes rise among residents toward improving inter-Korean relations following the Pyongyang summit.

“The local police station in Chongam District, which is under the command of the Chongjin Ministry of State Security branch in North Hamgyong Province, is closely monitoring the families of some defectors,” said a North Hamgyong Province-based source on October 30. “Police officers are monitoring their houses and sometimes use informants to keep watch over the families.”

The source also reported that one local police officer even had his wife monitor the families he was designated to watch when he was unable to. Overall, the authorities appear to have heightened their level of surveillance compared to the past. Previously, they visited families’ homes and simply asked them where the defectors had gone while confirming that the families hadn’t moved elsewhere.

The heightened surveillance appears to be focused on specific types of families. Experiencing heavier surveillance are those that have had family members attempt defection or those with relatives who are Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) members or government engineers.

A source in Ryanggang Province added, “The authorities require relatives who live with these families to report to local police whenever they go to work or leave their house. The WPK official at their worksite takes over the surveillance duties until they return home.”

Thus, families are monitored on a 24-hour basis. Both sources said that their mobile phones have very likely been bugged by the authorities.

Defectors in South Korea report that the North Korean government’s surveillance of their families in the North is a nationwide phenomenon.

“I was finally able to reach my family in South Hwanghae Province by phone, and they told me that they have to verbally report what they have done each day to the local police,” one defector told Daily NK. “What’s more, the officers are monitoring what my family is saying to each other in their own house so they have to be careful.”

“Other families with defector relatives may not be targeted as much for surveillance, but some are under heavy surveillance and face difficulties in receiving permits to travel to different areas,” another defector added. “These families cannot use Chinese mobile phones [for fear of being bugged] anymore so their businesses [including smuggling and other activities] are also suffering.”

“The recent inter-Korean summit has raised hopes [for unification] among the people but the authorities are concerned that more will try to defect due to the peaceful atmosphere.”