North Korean authorities have arrested a man on spying charges for having contact with Christians while visiting relatives in China, sources inside the isolated country said.
Kim Seung-mo, a 61-year-old resident of the Wiyon area of Hyesan city in Yanggang province, was arrested on June 3 after he returned from visiting relatives in China, they said.
“It happened on the third day following his return from visiting relatives in China,” a source from the province told RFA’s Korean Service.
“I witnessed him being dragged by state security officials in front of Wiyon train station,” he said. “There were about 3,000 people getting ready for the ‘military march to Mount Paektu,’ who were about to depart for Samjiyon county in celebration of the 80th anniversary of the victorious Battle of Pochonbo.”
Mount Paektu, an extinct volcano on the border between North Korea and China, is sacred to North and South Koreans alike. It is the legendary birthplace of Dangun Wanggeom, who is believed to be the founder of the first Korean kingdom around 2333 BC.
The Battle of Pochonbo on June 4, 1937, was a North Korean uprising against Japanese occupiers that was part of a larger armed struggle against the Japanese. It holds an important place in North Korea’s history.
Kim was shackled and tied with rope as he was dragged out from a town behind Wiyon brewery, said the source who spoke on condition of anonymity.
There were obvious signs of violent assault because the man had split lips and black eyes, and he appeared to have sustained an injury to one of his legs, the source said.
Someone informed agents
A second source who lives in Yanggang province told RFA on Tuesday that Kim used to work at the Wiyon substation where electricity is converted into distributable voltage.
Kim retired in March, he said.
“Since he retired, he hasn’t been doing anything, though he recently visited relatives in China to lend a hand to his wife who sells used clothes on the black market,” said the source who requested anonymity.
The man’s relatives are said to be residing in Antu, Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, in northeastern China’s Jilin province, the source said.
“After he came back from China, he openly told his neighbors that his relatives attended a Christian church, and the church’s pastor collected many used clothes from parishioners for him,” he said.
“It seems like someone informed state security agents about him,” he added.
The Ministry of State Security, which reports directly to leader Kim Jong Un, is the regime’s secret police force. It is known for its brutality and human rights abuses, experts say.
“All North Korean travelers returning from China are required to report their whereabouts and details about their activities,” the source said.
“In Kim’s case, he was arrested on charges of spying because he did not report the fact that his relatives are churchgoers and that the church pastor helped him,” he said.
Though Christian missionaries were active on the Korean peninsula during the time of the Japanese occupation before World War II, communist and atheist North Korea views Christianity as a contemptable Western religion.
The regime treats Christians hostilely because it wants nothing to supersede citizens’ loyalty to the state.
North Korea’s small community of Christians must conceal their faith to the fullest extent possible to avoid arrest and being sent to labor camps.
Reported by Sung-hui Moon for RFA’s Korea Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.