People repatriated to North Korea following defection are supposedly being sent directly to prison without first undergoing interrogation by agents from the National Security Agency, the North Korean state intelligence service. The policy, reported by an inside source on August 1st, follows a review of border security in the aftermath of the “Kim Kwang Ho incident”, in which a family that had defected, settled in South Korea and then returned to North Korea attempted to escape from the North yet again.
A source from Hoiryeong in North Hamkyung Province told Daily NK, “Additional NSA personnel have been in the border region tightening up security since the middle of last month,” before alleging, “Ever since the Kim Kwang Ho incident they’ve been sending repatriated defectors straight to political prison camps.”
As a matter of policy, those caught on the border or in China are returned to North Korea and directed to the nearest NSA detention center. There they are interrogated to establish the details of the defection, for instance the motivation, the destination, what the would-be defector did while abroad, and whether there was contact with South Koreans during this time. This process takes a number of days. It is at this time that bribes can be presented and clemency obtained; therefore, a policy of direct transit to prison camp makes it harder to escape prolonged detention.
“These days people who are adjudged to have had ‘certain contact with the ‘neighborhood below’ [South Korea]’ are getting sent to prison camp directly,” the source reiterated. “The authorities are mobilizing the most extreme tools at their disposal to try and stop people defecting.”
A defector who spoke with Daily NK following the report from inside North Korea commented, “When the Kim Kwang Ho incident happened, the authorities realized that it was going to be really hard to change defectors once they had experienced freedom in the outside world, so they ordered harsher punishment for them.”
“They can’t make good on their promise of economic improvement, and are not sure that they can maintain the system,” the source concluded. “That’s probably why they are trying to ramp up the punishments.”