Suspicions are rising that Lim Ji Hyun, a defector who recently returned to the North, was kidnapped by North Korean agents in China.
According to sources inside North Korea, North Korean agents are actively apprehending and kidnapping North Koreans who have escaped to South Korea, as well as those who are in transit on their way to South Korea.
Recently, ten close relatives of defectors who had been captured in China by agents from North Korea’s central intelligence body were called in for questioning to a Ministry of State Security (MSS) detention facility in North Korea’s South Hamgyong Province.
“The families of defectors are monitored closely by the provincial MSS,” said an inside source from South Hamgyong Province during a telephone conversation with Daily NK on July 20. “They tap their phones and bribe smugglers for information. Recently, a number of residents who were under surveillance were apprehended by North Korean agents in China after they suddenly left North Korea. They are now in the custody of the (MSS) and are being interrogated.”
A separate source in South Hamgyong Province added, “The ten family members were in China near the border with North Korea when they were apprehended about a week ago. Rumors are spreading that the MSS paid Chinese public security agents 10,000 RMB (about US $1,480) per person to permit their seizure and repatriation to the North. They were all relatives from the same family and were attempting to flee to South Korea. People are saying that they will be subject to severe punishment.”
Both of these sources noted that since the start of the Kim Jong Un era, more and more defectors are being brought back to the North after attempting to flee. Residents have therefore become accustomed to hearing such stories.
“The MSS uses family members to blackmail defectors, or gives them incentives to return. Sometimes they call them back under the pretense of helping another family to escape,” said a source in North Hamgyong Province.
“Most of the defectors who return to the North are either kidnapped in China or tricked into returning after arriving in South Korea. The authorities use people they trust to lure them back. Most residents believe that [when defectors appear in North Korean media and denounce South Korea], they are being forced to do so by threat of violence.”
For residents planning to escape the North, China is earning a reputation as a dangerous place.
“Once the MSS selects a target, they spend years preparing to apprehend that person. These days, it is not uncommon to hear stories of defectors who have settled in South Korea being kidnapped [while traveling] in China and taken back to the North,” the North Hamgyong Province-based source said, adding that most people in North Korea do not yet know about the return of defector Lim Ji Hyun.
“This is the first I’ve heard of her. It’s hard to know if she will appear in a press conference aired on TV for all the residents to see. We haven’t heard about her yet.”