Recently, two North Koreans who were attempting to defect were arrested by the Ministry of State Security branch in Yanggang Province. A source reported that the authorities regard these North Korean citizens as spies, and are torturing them severely. 

“On Jan. 28, two North Koreans from Hyesan attempting to defect were arrested by the provincial security department,” a source from Yanggang Province told Daily NK on Feb. 4. “They were caught crossing the Yalu River by undercover counterintelligence agents from the provincial security department.” 

According to the source, those arrested by the provincial security department were a man in his thirties, Kim, and a woman in her twenties, Han. The provincial security department immediately classified them as enemy spies at the time of their arrest, and they have been undergoing torture since.

During the interrogation and torture process, the security department has been pressuring them to confess that their final destination was South Korea. When they deny these accusations, the department has not hesitated to employ inhumane torture methods, like hanging them upside down or hitting them with clubs. 

hyesan leaker bribe elderly smuggling gold yanggang projects phones border
A view of Hyesan, Yanggang Province, in August 2018. / Image: Daily NK

In response, Han has reportedly been exhibiting strange symptoms such as bursting out into laughter or suddenly sobbing. However, the source states that the security department has not changed its approach, and is still committed to intense interrogation, repeatedly asking, “What was your mission?” and “Who were you going to meet?” 

Although what will happen to them has not yet been decided, there is a high likelihood that they will be strictly punished. Some speculate that they will likely be charged with espionage, not attempting to defect, and either be executed or sent to a political prison camp.

In addition, there is a high chance of the government utilizing a “strong offensive approach” due to citizens’ complaints about the recent blockades of Hyesan and Samjiyon. 

“Many North Koreans are trying to defect this year,” the source said, adding, “The government is going to use this incident to create an atmosphere of fear.” 

In August of last year, North Korea set up a buffer zone extending one to two kilometers from the border. The Ministry of Social Security issued a decree stating that it will indiscriminately shoot anything, whether man or animal, that enters this zone. 

*Translated by Audrey Gregg

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