Suspected North Korean government agents have assaulted a North Korean living in a refugee center in Denmark and warned him that they will cut his head off if he does not return home, according to a rights group.
“We are currently trembling in extreme fear and anxiety,” the refugee, who lives with his wife at the center in the small Danish town of Hanstholm in the northern part of Denmark, told the U.S.-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK).
Bae Jun Sik was assaulted by the agents this week and has been hospitalized at Hillerod Hospital in Hanstholm in the latest of several attacks on him since Nov. 10.
“I have spoken with hospital staff, who confirmed that he has a broken nose, an injury to his head, and scars on his neck, most likely proof of an attempt to strangle him,” Greg Scarlatoiu, HRNK’s executive director, told RFA’s Korean Service.
“He says he went out [of the center] for a cigarette, opened the door for people outside, and they tried to strangle him with a plastic string. His wife heard the noise, screamed, and they ran away,” Scarlatoiu said.
In a written message to HRNK just before the attack, Bae said he entered Denmark after escaping from a North Korean political prison camp, where he and his family had been held.
They were thrown into the camp after being caught and repatriated while trying to enter China illegally in their bid to seek asylum in a foreign country.
“My father, unable to endure the torture by the North Korean State Security Department, committed suicide [at the camp],” said Bae, whose application for asylum together with that of his wife are currently being processed by Danish authorities.
Bae, who left behind his three-year-old infant and a nine-year-old child at the camp, said he had been threatened and assaulted by “agents of the North Korean regime” over the past month.
“These agents have also brandished a knife at me,” he said in his message, a copy of which was handed to RFA by HRNK.
Bae said after he was first assaulted on Nov. 10, he received a threatening text message on the same day.
“The text message said that ‘The motherland forgives you. Return to the loving care of the Party. If you do not, we will not hesitate to cut your head off.”
The threats did not end even after he was transferred to a second refugee center as the agents harassed and tried to force him to give details of North Korean refugees in Denmark.
“At the second refugee center we moved to, I was threatened with a knife and dragged to some place, where the agents put me on the phone with someone,” he said.
“The person on the phone was a North Korean, and this person asked me how many North Korean refugees there are in Denmark.”
When he refused to answer, he was told, “If you don’t want to die a useless death in some faraway place, come back to North Korea while we are still giving you the chance.”
Before his latest assault, Bae received a written threat on Dec. 12.
“It said that ‘Wherever you go, we will find you. We know where you are. You will see for yourself the last moments of those who betray the motherland.’”
The Danish immigration authorities and police had asked him and his wife if there was a reason for the agents to threaten them in this way.
“If there is a reason, it is only that we have committed the ‘crime’ of being born in North Korea,” he said, adding that he fled his country “because—like many other North Korean refugees—I could no longer endure the hunger and deprivation.”
“I had to find a way to live.”
“We have nowhere to turn for help.”
'Unreal rights situation'
Bae said he wants his case publicized “to let the world know of the unreal human rights situation in North Korea.”
“I would also like to sincerely ask for your help with regards to my current situation, and I would like to ask for your continued attention.”
Scarlatoiu said that Bae was not asking for help with expediting his asylum application, but seems to be in need of protection.
He said he had spoken to the Danish Red Cross and immigration authorities about Bae’s plight since being contacted by the North Korean 10 days ago, several times a day.
“As you will see from the message, he has been followed, threatened, and assaulted by persons he believes are agents of the North Korean regime—both Koreans and non-Koreans,” Scarlatoiu said.
He said the Danish authorities initially did not take the threats seriously due to miscommunication.
Even after understanding his plight, they could not provide additional protection, he said.
“The Red Cross had thought that he'd been in a fight with other refugees. They verified that he is a North Korean whose application is being processed, and they raised no red flags whatsoever.”
After he was issued the threatening message last week, the local police also spoke to Bae, Scarlatoiu said.
“They also brought in a translator who helped decipher the threatening message and interview the refugee. However, everyone informed me that they don't have the resources to provide additional protection.”
Bae has provided HRNK the dates of birth and full names of all his family members he claims were taken to political prison camps.
“I also spoke with his wife. I may not know much, but I can tell for sure when I am talking to a Korean lady who appears to be genuinely frightened and in distress,” Scarlatoiu said.
Both Bae and his wife insist they stand out as the only Koreans around at the refugee center and that the North Korean agents have informants among the foreign refugees at such centers.
North Korea’s hard-line communist regime had sent agents abroad previously to abduct defectors, who are subsequently imprisoned without trial, beaten, tortured, and even executed, reports have said.
The abductions were reported mostly in South Korea and China but a man who admitted to having taken part in such schemes was recently caught in Canada and deported.
Reported by RFA’s Korean Service. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.