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A sentry post on the Sino-North Korean border in Sakju County, North Pyongan Province. / Image: Daily NK

The Ministry of State Security appears to be trying to control the public activities of North Korean defectors settled in South Korea by threatening their families still in the North. 

A source in North Hamgyong Province told Daily NK on Wednesday that a three person team from the Ministry of State Security’s headquarters in Pyongyang have been making rounds in Chongjin, Onsong, Musan, Saebyol, and Hoeryong since Oct. 15. He said the team has been handing over documents pertaining to North Korean defectors in the South to local Ministry of State Security officials, instructing them to “inform the defectors’ families of party policy.”

The three team members come from the ministry’s overseas counterespionage bureau, general bureau and political bureau.

According to the source, the trio have been driving a truck laden with documents all around North Hamgyong Province, giving instructions to local ministry officials.

The documents are reportedly materials on defectors who are publicly active in South Korea, containing detailed individual accounts of their activities, including which TV programs or YouTube shows they have appeared on.

The source said the team from Pyongyang has been handing their monitoring materials to local Ministry of State Security officials, instructing them to tell the families of defectors that it is party policy to “unconditionally exclude” the relatives of defectors “who openly engage in malicious propaganda against the Motherland” from entry into the ruling party, school recommendations, cadre recruitment and residence in Pyongyang “down to second cousins.”

The trio is reportedly urging local ministry officials to closely watch the families of defectors, telling them they would continuously provide them with comprehensive materials once a year based on investigations into the activities of defectors on a so-called “blacklist.”

“Based on the orders from the agents from Pyongyang, the local agents in charge have been visiting the families of defectors on the list, showing them the documents with when, where and how many times their relatives in South Korea engaged in malicious propaganda and telling them that all their relatives need to do is stop openly engaging in malicious propaganda,” the source said. 

In fact, the local agents are reportedly saying it is party policy not to impugn the families of defectors with crimes or charge them with guilt-by-association as long as the defectors refrain from public activities. They are also saying that they will “execute party policy” based on how many times the defectors engage in public activities.

The Ministry of State Security is aware that defectors continue to contact their families in North Korea, and are basically trying to get the families to tell defectors what kind of harm their public activities in the South will bring their relatives in the North. This indirect warning to defectors who expose the realities of North Korea on the public stage suggests the authorities are trying to control and restrict the activities of those defectors.

Moreover, the agents are also reportedly working to prevent the families of defectors from defecting to the South as well, telling them “not to believe everything people who went to the South say when they say they are living well,” and that “those people are being treated like trash in a trash heap in North Korea.”

Meanwhile, the source said the agents from Pyongyang are scheduled to go to Yanggang Province to do the same thing when they are done in North Hamgyong Province. They plan to tour other provinces along the Sino-North Korean border as well, he added.

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Ha Yoon Ah is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to