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Dong-A Reporter Recalls Nightmarish Abuse of NK Defectors

Dong-A Reporter Recalls Nightmarish Abuse of NK Defectors

Posted January. 07, 2010 11:08,   


The Dong-A Ilbo yesterday ran on its front page photos of two North Korean defectors apparently taken into custody by Chinese authorities and awaiting repatriation.

The two women looked like criminals in the photos holding numbers. The pictures were reportedly taken ahead of their deportation to the North at a detention house on the North Korean-Chinese border.

Dong-A reporter Zhu Seong-ha, a former defector himself who has covered the plight of North Korean escapees, said he cannot help but recall the nightmares defectors often face in China after seeing the photos. He said the two women seem full of fear in the photos as if sensing their imminent ordeal.

Defectors who are caught and repatriated are widely known to be treated like animals by North Korean authorities. Yet their inhumane treatment begins from the moment of their capture in China.

Zhu said he retains vivid memories of Chinese riot police teasingly smiling at teenage defectors, who shivered in terror. Such police applied shocks with an electrical baton to defectors who failed to answer questions on a train used for their repatriation.

Zhu said he was also beaten with a bat at a Chinese detention house for failing to answer questions as instructed. It is also reportedly not uncommon for Chinese investigators and prison guards to use sexual violence on female defectors.

The abuse from Chinese authorities once got so bad, defectors reportedly rioted at a detention house in Tumen in 2000, through which the largest number of defectors are channeled for repatriation. Chinese police reportedly opened fire to suppress the riot.

A medical doctor-turned-North Korean defector who led the riot was taken away in a hand carriage after suffering a gunshot wound. This brutal act by Chinese police reportedly even angered North Korean security officers.

Zhu heard this story directly from a North Korean security agent when taken to the North. What the reporter feared most at a Chinese detention house was not a beating but interrogation lasting for more than two weeks.

Defectors can lie about their whereabouts and activities in China to North Korean authorities because of North Korea`s difficulty in confirming their stories. Yet it is more difficult for defectors to lie to Chinese police because Chinese authorities can easily confirm the stories.

Chinese investigators are known to take defectors’ handprints after questioning, and if investigation reports are given to North Korean authorities, defectors face more severe punishment.

Whether China transfers the reports to North Korea remains unknown. North Korean security agents, however, often deter defectors against lying by claiming to have the reports.

Zhu urged the raising of the human rights of North Korean defectors set for repatriation as an international issue in the wake of the publication of the two defectors` photos.

Beijing has repeatedly said it treats North Korean defectors under domestic and international laws and the principle of humanitarianism. Zhu, however, said China seems like a very small and uncivilized country whenever it makes such hypocritical comments, and questions whether it can truly become a world superpower.