Unification Media Group (UMG): Today we’re speaking with Daily NK reporter Lee Sang Yong. Can you introduce the background of today’s case for us please?
Lee Sang Yong (Lee): A North Korean resident of Pochon County, Ryanggang Province, who will be described here only by her last name of Choi, has provided testimony stating that the captain (50s, name redacted) of the Pochon Ministry of State Security [MSS], has been subjecting repatriated pregnant women to forced abortions, and ruthlessly tortures residents caught using Chinese mobile phones.
UMG: How powerful is the head of a local MSS unit in North Korea?
Lee: In North Korea, the head of a local MSS unit is in charge of maintaining general security in a region by monitoring and identifying dissidents or those who criticize the Kim family. The position is central to maintaining the stability of the Kim Jong Un regime, and the position holds high authority.
North Korean officials are abusing their authority to exploit residents and this captain is reportedly an extreme case. The source noted that the captain has the authority to choose between life and death for those taken into his custody.
For this reason, Pochon residents are saying that this captain’s “word is law.” Recently, it was reported that he ordered his agents to stomp on the bellies of several repatriated pregnant women in custody to induce abortion.
UMG: Please continue.
Lee: According to the informant, a female defector referred to as Jeon in her mid 20s, had been living in China for several years. She was repatriated in the middle of May. Jeon was first investigated by the Ryanggang MSS and was then sent to the Pochon County MSS for further investigation. During the investigation, the captain, who was monitoring the inspection room, said to the interrogator, “How did she carry a Chinese baby all the way here?” After realizing the implicit instruction, the interrogator repeatedly struck the woman’s belly until the fetus was aborted.
UMG: So he in effect ordered the forced abortion while not being directly responsible for it?
Lee: That’s correct. He is said to have receive reports and updates about this particular incident several times. But it was he himself that was placed in charge of investigating the incident and it was even he who was sent to examine the victim.
UMG: Are there any other cases involving this captain?
Lee: Another source has alleged that in 2015, when he was the deputy head of the MSS anti-espionage department, he reportedly sent 40 residents to political prison camps and re-education camps for using Chinese mobile phones, illegally crossing the border, and leaking information.
Throughout his tenure, he is said to have frequently committed ruthless beatings of his prisoners. In February 2015, a resident in his 30s who was living in Songhu was arrested, and the captain began to attack him with a rod without stopping. He just kept hitting the individual, saying, “If you want to live, tell me why you are here (the MSS inspection room).”
UMG: Is such ruthless violence common when one is arrested by the MSS?
Lee: North Korean residents say, “Arrest by the MSS means you must confess to crimes you did not commit.” This is because MSS agents have a habit of torturing detainees until they are told whatever they want to hear.
The beaten resident was eventually sentenced to correctional labor punishment. But the captain demanded a bribe as well. In the end, the individual was compelled to pay 40,000 RMB (approx US$6,000) to the captain and was released from correctional labor five months after his arrest.
UMG: How do the residents react to the captain?
Lee: Most residents are terrified of him. They say that “he is a monster with many masks on a single face.”
Others note that “even when he smiles and helps people out, he is always scheming. It is dangerous to be friendly with him.”
UMG: Have the North Korean central authorities investigated such incidents?
Lee: Quite the opposite. The regime has commended his abilities and loyalty as an inspector, and promoted him. He now serves as the head of the Pochon County MSS department. Although he inflicts terrible suffering on those in custody, the authorities evaluate him to be an outstanding officer.
In this respect, we can determine that the atrocities committed by the captain represent the will of the North Korean authorities. The MSS equate misdeeds and violence to their loyalty to the Party, claiming that they are protecting the political ideology of the Suryong (Supreme Leader).