Seven North Korean railroad workers heard criticizing a recent missile test by their secretive, sanctions-hit regime were arrested by authorities in Jagang province at the end of last month, sources say.
The workers, members of North Korea’s quasi-military “stormtrooper” construction brigades, had openly questioned the value of the launch, saying that the money spent on weapons tests would be better spent on the country’s crumbling infrastructure, one source told RFA’s Korean Service.
“Seven stormtroopers from Jagang province who were deployed to work on the Hyesan-Samjiyon railroad were arrested and handed over to the Security Department,” the source, a resident of neighboring Yanggang province, told RFA this week.
“They are suspected of slandering the missile launch that was conducted early last month,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Also speaking to RFA, a second source in Yanggang said the men had been drinking and playing cards on March 6 at the house of their supervisor at the Amnokgang (Yalu River) Collective Farm in Yanggang’s Pochon county when they were overheard.
“While they were playing their game, a report of the missile launch was being aired over and over again on television,” the source said. “This annoyed them, and they said, ‘If I had the money to make missiles, I would rather buy more construction equipment.’”
Questioned at the time of their arrest, they denied having made any complaint, but security officers forced neighbors and family members of their supervisor to come forward as witnesses and speak against them, he said.
All members of the Jagang-based construction brigade present at the work site were then examined by political officers sent from brigade headquarters to test their loyalty, the source said, adding that local villagers have now made the supervisor’s family members targets of contempt.
In shared conversations following the arrests, friends and co-workers of the seven who were jailed were quietly sympathetic to their views, the source said.
“They didn’t say anything wrong,” the source said.
“Instead of building missiles, that money should be used to repair the railroad, buy machinery, and free the stormtroopers from labor slavery,” he said.
Reported by Sunghui Moon. Translated by Soo Min Jo. Written in English by Richard Finney.