MSS heightened efforts to entice defectors back to North Korea prior to elections

North Koreans checking the list of candidates for the 2019 Supreme People's Assembly election
North Koreans checking the list of candidates for the 2019 Supreme People’s Assembly elections. Image: DPRK Today

The North Korean Ministry of State Security (MSS) heightened its efforts to entice North Korean defectors back to the country prior to elections for the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) held earlier this week.

The efforts appear to be part of a broader strategy by the authorities to rally support for the regime.

North Korea’s state-run Rodong Sinmun argued in a March 4 article entitled “Our Election System is the Best in the World” that elections in capitalist societies are just tools used to extend the dominating elite’s grip on power, while North Korean elections are the most “democratic and fair elections in the world.”

The objective of enticing North Korean defectors back to the country may be to demonstrate the strength and support for leader Kim Jong Un.

“For a month before the elections, MSS agents were visiting households with defector relatives and telling them that if their family members returned to North Korea during the election period, all would be forgiven and that they would be provided with jobs and a house,” said a North Hamgyong Province-based source.

Criticism sessions were held for MSS agents in the North Korea-Chinese border region after it was discovered that even more people were found to be missing during a citizenship registration drive conducted before the election. The criticism sessions were aimed at ensuring that the MSS agents were not “blind to fulfilling their roles in protecting the motherland.”

A separate source in North Hamgyong Province reported that an MSS agent in Onsong County approached an elderly couple whose daughter had been missing for an extended period of time (and is suspected of defecting). The agent asked them whether they “wanted to live with their daughter for the remainder of their lives” and told them that if they just provided her phone number, he would call her and persuade her to come back.

The agent did not have a particularly threatening attitude toward the elderly couple. Instead, he calmly told them that she would be taken care of if she returns to the country during the election period, so, in his words, “there’s no reason for her to live in inhumane conditions in another country,” she said.

The elderly couple outwardly showed openness to what the MSS agent told them, but nonetheless said that they weren’t in contact with their daughter and didn’t know whether she’s alive or dead.

As the source put it, “There’s no reason for them to bring their daughter back when she’s earning a good living in South Chosun (South Korea).”