Two artists sentenced to life in political prison camp after attempt to defect from North Korea

South Korean President Moon Jae In spoke during a mass gymnastics performance at the May Day Stadium in Pyongyang in September 2018. Image: Pyongyang Press Corps Pool

A pair of artists from Pyongyang has been sentenced to life in prison following a defection attempt to South Korea, sources in the North Korean capital report.

“In early November, a public trial was held at the May Day Stadium to determine the fate of two female artists in their 20s or 30s who attempted to defect to South Korea,” a source in Pyongyang reported to Daily NK, noting that the affiliation of the two subjects was not revealed.

“The women, who were handcuffed and kept their heads bowed for the duration of the trial, were escorted by police into a crowded stadium. The judge announced the sentence through a microphone.”

According to a separate source in Pyongyang, the women traveled to the border area in early 2018 to prepare for their defection, which arose suspicion and brought them under heavy surveillance by the Ministry of State Security. When they left Pyongyang to begin their defection journey in earnest in September of the same year, they were arrested upon reaching the border area.

To protect the capital, citizens of Pyongyang who travel to the border area without specific cause are placed under increased surveillance by the country’s political security apparatus.

The intensified surveillance determined that the two women frequently watched foreign media, and were particularly infatuated with South korean singers and music. The women hoped to follow in the footsteps of a friend who had resettled in the South and found work as a singer.

During the trial, the prosecutors and judge condemned the women for “imitating and spreading the degenerate culture of capitalism” due to their affinity for and emulation of South Korean songs and dance.

Despite the increasing flow of information, a growing K-pop fanbase and warming ties between the two Koreas has led to further suppression of the North Korean people, marked by strengthened crackdowns and punishments inside the country. The regime sees such external information and influence as a threat to its survival.

An additional source in Pyongyang added, “The women will serve their sentence out in Camp No. 25 (Susong political prison camp). Everyone heard about it and is scared to watch TV or movies from South Korea.”

Seo Jae Pyong of the Association for North Korean Defectors told Daily NK, “A lot of Pyongyangites in the arts community took great interest in Moon Jae In’s speech at the May Day Stadium back in September. They share a common interest and enjoy South Korean cultural content relatively freely, which the Kim Jong Un regime clearly sees as a threat.”