North Korean authorities are warning citizens living in areas near the country’s border with China that anyone caught helping families flee the reclusive nuclear-armed state will be put to death, while close relatives of the offender will be banished to remote areas of the country, sources in the North said.
Announcements of the new policy began to be made shortly after the Oct. 10 anniversary of the founding of the ruling Korean Workers’ Party, following warnings given earlier to security forces guarding the border, a source in Jagang province told RFA’s Korean Service.
“A lecture was given at a village meeting on the evening of Oct. 14 to let us know that anyone caught abetting a family’s defection will be executed,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Parents and other family members will be banished to the countryside,” the source said.
A similar lecture had already been given to border guards, the source said, adding that anyone found helping a family to cross the border without permission had previously faced only a prison term of from five to seven years.
Family members of those caught helping people flee had also been exempt from punishment in the past, the source said.
Authorities now seem determined to impose much harsher punishments for those caught helping others leave the country, he said.
The new policy may have come as a reaction by authorities to a recent wave of pardons ordered by North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly, many of which freed smugglers, would-be defectors, and border guards convicted of helping others to defect, another source said.
“The central government’s measures to punish even the family members of those abetting illegal border crossings are strongly related to its recent pardon order,” the source, living in Yanggang province and speaking anonymously, told RFA.
Following the Assembly’s decision to enact a wide-ranging pardon, authorities released prisoners serving terms of up to five years on five separate occasions from Aug. 5 to Oct. 5, RFA’s source said.
“However, four residents of Heysan, the capital city of Yanggang, escaped with their family members to China on the eve of Chusok, Korean Thanksgiving Day [on Oct. 4],” the source said.
“This incident seems to have triggered the authorities’ decision to raise the level of punishment for abettors of defections much higher,” he said.
Reported by Sung-hui Moon for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Changsop Pyon. Written in English by Richard Finney.