Family Caught for Attempting to Defect

A family was recently apprehended
near the China-North Korea border by State Security Department [SSD] agents after
attempting to flee the country and is currently facing possible transfer to a
re-education camp. Of the group, originally comprising four people, one of whom
sources within the North revealed successfully fled while detained in custody, three are currently undergoing torture and investigation in the hands of security agents.

“A family of four from North Hamkyung
Province attempted to escape with the help from a border guard and a smuggler
near the end of last month; however, someone tipped off the proper officials,
resulting in their arrest,” a source in Yangkang Province reported to Daily NK
on February 4th. “To expedite the family’s escape, the smuggler got a number of
soldiers, all of whom he deemed trustworthy, involved. But too many caught wind
of the family’s plot to defect, which led to the family’s eventual capture.”

The family’s eldest son purportedly fled while being held in custody, leaving behind the parents and their younger
son to endure relentless interrogation at a SSD-run detention center, where they are
“as good as dead,” according to the source, because not only were they
themselves planning to defect, but now their son presumably succeeded in doing
so despite being held in custody.

She speculated that the three members
remaining in custody will be sent to a re-education camp following the
protracted interrogations, though the repercussions could prove more severe
because of the son’s escape. She added that the SSD has stepped up pressure on
the heads of inminban [people’s unit], threatening, “if anyone knew that he
[the escapee] was bound for South Korea and did not inform us beforehand, they
will face equal punishment.” Because the group was known to be headed for South
Korea, “no excuse is sufficient to escape severe forms of torture,” according
to residents familiar with this case–and the multitude of ones that predate

To stave off similar incidents the SSD has
reportedly been conducting indiscriminate probes into the homes of residents
living along the river. Those aware of the situation wasted no time in
pointing out the obvious absurdity of such a measure, saying, “You think the
person who ran away would still be here [North Korea] after knowing his death
is certain?”

The source asserted that the
investigations, carried out by both SSD and Ministry of People’s Safety [MPS]
officials will continue until the defector is tracked down and used as an
example to resolve the issue and warn others from trying to do the same.  

Fortified border control utilizing special units is customary
around major holidays, namely the birthdays of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, which is coming up on February 16th, however, in light of the recent
incident, soldiers have commented it seems like the “special border units are
already in overdrive.”  

Moreover, tightened measures dating back to last September remain firmly in place, cracking down on outside phone calls and the flow of remittances into the country through border regions, resulting in a marked decrease of those fleeing the country, and an increase of arrests of those who try.

Against this backdrop, the source said these SSD border guards, yet to apprehend the
escapee,  “won’t be able to sleep at night,” and regarding the situation,
some residents have remarked that “during times like this no one can even dream
of escaping, but they [the family] were really fearless.”

Kang Mi Jin is a North Korean defector turned journalist who fled North Korea in 2009. She has a degree in economics and writes largely on marketization and economy-related issues for Daily NK. Questions about her articles can be directed to