A North Korean man who made frequent international calls near the Sino-North Korean border with a Chinese mobile phone was recently arrested and sent to a political prison camp for allegedly leaking state secrets, Daily NK has learned. 

“A man in his 50s from Chongjin had been routinely contacting a Chinese broker using a Chinese mobile phone when he was caught by the Ministry of State Security [MSS] last month in a phone-tapping sting,” a North Hamgyong Province-based source told Daily NK on Monday. “He was arrested as a spy and transported to a political prison camp in mid-June.” 

According to the source, the man was already a target for MSS surveillance due to his frequent movements in areas near the Sino-North Korean border. 

The man’s travel in regions near the border had attracted the attention of the head of a local inminban (North Korea’s lowest administrative unit) given the closure of the Sino-North Korean border and restrictions on movements due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He was then added to a list of key surveillance targets and had his phone calls tapped by the MSS, according to the source. 

The man was reportedly asked by a Chinese broker during a phone call as to whether any new munitions factories were being built in Chongjin. The man responded that he would let the broker know “by text” and followed up with a lengthy text message. This correspondence led to the man’s arrest. 

“After a preliminary examination held over the course of a month, he was convicted of leaking confidential state secrets, which meant he had to be classified as a political criminal rather than an ordinary criminal,” the source told Daily NK. 

Preliminary examinations include the entire interrogation process prior to suspects being indicted.

As soon as the man was sent to a political prison camp, the MSS notified his family in Chongjin and banished them to Yonsa County in North Hamgyong Province, the source added. 

The preliminary examination revealed that the man had paid drivers to take him to the border and bribed local checkpoint guards. The drivers and guards involved are currently under interrogation by the authorities. 

“The government is pulling out all the stops to prevent leaks of state secrets,” the source said, adding, “The MSS is particularly suspicious of those who claim they frequent areas near the border to do business, and is determined to ramp up surveillance of such people.”

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Kim Yoo Jin is one of Daily NK's freelance journalists. Please direct any questions about his articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.