Before he was murdered in April 2016, an ethnic Korean named Han Chung Ryeol was a pastor at a church in China’s Changbai City on the perimeter of Mount Paektu, which straddles the Sino-Korean border. An agent from North Korea’s security and intelligence body has confessed to being involved in Pastor Han’s murder.
Pastor Han was known for providing aid to defectors in China and supporting missionary activities in the North. He was found with knife wounds to his neck after disappearing in April 2016.
There were no substantial clues to the murder for some time, making it difficult to gain closure on the case. Recently, a North Korean has, on their own volition, admitted to their involvement in the case, saying they received instructions from the North’s Ministry of State Security (MSS). There were rumors that the murderer received money from North Korean sources, but these have been unsubstantiated until now.
A source close to the matter in China told Daily NK on July 21 that a defector learned about the confession while in China, saying, “At the beginning of June, a woman in her twenties left Ryanggang Province and entered China. She told an acquaintance in the area that she was involved in the murder of Pastor Han.”
According to the source, this acquaintance was involved in smuggling scrap iron and medicinal herbs between North Korea and China. North Korea’s Ministry of State Security discovered that she had illegally crossed the border dozens of times, and used it as blackmail to persuade her to become an informant beginning in October 2015.
From mid-February 2016, she studied and recorded the movements of Pastor Han, reporting them to the relevant MSS office.
“The young woman received commendation and rewards for her contribution after the murder was carried out. She was also told that she would be severely punished if information about the murder was leaked,” the source added.
According to a separate source with knowledge of the matter in China, the woman was surprised to receive the reward, and then heard the shocking inside story from Chinese traders: rather than a kidnapping operation, it was an assassination. Rumors were swirling around China that the person behind the attack was a North Korean.
“She was shocked to learn that she had taken part in a murder, and began to develop contempt for North Korea. That’s when she decided to defect. She felt heavy guilt for her own part in the crime, and despised the MSS for manipulating her in that way,” she said, adding that the North Korean authorities manipulated and used her habitually, and even sexually assaulted her.
“The MSS officer in charge and even a Ministry of People’s Security (MPS, North Korea’s police force) who knew about her situation both sexually abused her. They abused her in every way imaginable, as a person and as a woman.”