Pyongyang has become harsher

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Pyongyang has become harsher

North Korea has strengthened surveillance along its borders and has increased its punishment of attempted defectors and mobile phone users in recent years, according to the state-run Korea Institute for National Unification’s recent report released on Tuesday.

The think tank’s white report on North Korean human rights, which studied interviews of 186 North Korean defectors who fled to the South in late 2014 and 2015, shows that the Kim Jong-un regime has intensified its control over its people and clamped down on the flow of information from the outside world.

It also said that since 2014, the country has started sending its citizens to labor camps regardless of the number of defections they had attempted. With the border crackdown recently strengthening, the number of re-defection has dramatically decreased. Indeed, defection attempts have generally been lower under Kim as compared to his father Kim Jong-il.

The number of North Koreans who defected to the South was 2,706 in 2011, when the current leader assumed office. It then plunged in 2012 to 1,502, and last year marked the lowest rate in more than a decade, with 1,276 defectors.

In addition to border surveillance, the North’s punishment for the use of cell phones and illegal DVDs of South Korean movies and dramas has also been enhanced, the report said. Those caught possessing illegal DVDs and mobile phones are sent directly to the North’s State Security Department.

The white paper also revealed human rights violations involving North Korean workers living overseas, after investigating cases of laborers who were dispatched to China, Russia, Qatar, Kuwait, Libya and the United Arab Emirates between 2013 and 2015.

North Korean workers in Russia suffered from extremely low wages and work shifts that began at 5 a.m. and ended at 12 a.m., it noted, adding that much of the wages were paid to the nation’s ruling party, the Workers’ Party of Korea.

According to a recent report by the International Coalition to Stop Crimes Against Humanity in North Korea (ICNK), the life of an overseas North Korean worker is comparable to that of a slave, saying that testimonies of North Korean defectors showed that workers dispatched to construction sites overseas had no freedom to rest and were not even granted convalescence time when ill.

Sources familiar with North Korea claimed that it raises at least $250 million annually from overseas workers, money that is believed to be used for the development for nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. Now that the UN Security Council has imposed its harshest-ever sanctions on North Korea, there are growing concerns that North Korea will push to send more workers to other countries.

As a fifth North Korean nuclear test is likely to be carried out shortly, Daniel Russel, the top U.S. diplomat for the Asia-Pacific region, said earlier this month that the test could trigger new sanctions, including an effort to choke off hard currency earnings by its overseas workers.

North Korea’s regime is notorious for violating the human rights of its people, occasionally executing senior officials for treason and incarcerating its citizens without proper legal process.

The UN General Assembly has adopted a resolution on crimes against humanity in North Korea every year since 2005.

BY KIM SO-HEE [kim.sohee0905@joongang.co.kr]

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