North Korean man arrested for communicating with family member in China

View from across the river of Pungso County, Ryanggang Province
View from across the river of Pungso County, Ryanggang Province. Image: Daily NK

A family member of a North Korean defector was recently arrested in the Sino-North Korean border region, Daily NK sources have reported.

“A 20-year-old living in Hwajon Village, Pochon County, was arrested on charges of spying by the provincial Ministry of State Security (MSS) office on July 20,” a Ryanggang Province-based source told Daily NK.

“The man was under surveillance by the MSS for some time and was in contact with an aunt of his who had defected to China and was sending money to him.”

The MSS office had watched the man for some time given that he was not working and would leave his house for other areas of the country for days at a time. The man was even warned by local MSS officials to cease acting suspiciously, but had simply paid off these officials with bribes.

The local (Pochon County) MSS office continued to believe that the man was conducting illegal activity and designated him a “dangerous figure.” Local MSS agents began surveillance over his daily activities. The local MSS officials then turned the man’s case over to the provincial MSS office, signaling that the authorities believed that serious crimes were being committed.

The man continued to take “business trips” around the region on instructions from his aunt in China, seemingly unaware that the MSS was closing in on him.

The provincial MSS office made preparations to arrest the man and agents began hiding out near his house from the evening of July 18.

The man returned to his house on July 20 with another individual. Two days after staking out his house, the agents moved in to arrest him and sent him to an MSS holding facility.

The man was unaware of why he had been arrested, according to a separate source in Ryanggang Province.

“The MSS discovered the identity of other people connected to the man and two Chinese cellphones in his house,” he said. “An official who was part of the local border patrol interrogating the man demanded that he tell the agents the identities of soldiers on the border who had helped him.”

The man’s arrest comes in the wake of broader efforts by the authorities to crack down on the flow of information across the border into China. North Koreans with family members who have defected are specifically being targeted for “espionage.”

Daily NK recently reported through Ryanggang Province-based sources that a 30-year-old man with relatives in South Korea was arrested for “using the South Korean dialect.” Locals told the source that the man was targeted by the MSS due to his frequent contact with family members in South Korea.

With a spate of recent arrests by the authorities of people with family members who have defected, North Korean officials appear to be putting more resources into preventing defections across the border as well as any communication with the outside world.