A North Korean mother whose entire family lives in hiding in China has told RFA she fears her daughter will face execution following her repatriation to North Korea by Chinese authorities.
"I was told that she was sent to North Korea on the 22nd of March. I already lost my son this way before," the mother of Kim Soonjung told RFA's Korean service. "My son was also arrested by the North Korean government and now my third daughter got captured too. My heart aches in pain and agony. I do not even have anyone to talk to about this," Kim's mother said.
Kim's mother came to China with her three daughters and one son in 1997 at the height of the famine in North Korea. "I went through all the difficulties that people can possibly imagine," she said. "But in 1997, my son was arrested and sent back to North Korea. Now Soonjung was also sent, leaving me only two daughters. And my youngest daughter is very sick."
She said Kim was sent back to North Korea following a group hunger strike at the prison camp where she was held after her arrest. Kim was arrested somewhere in southwest China during an attempt to cross the border to Vietnam, in the hope of gaining passage to South Korea. She parted from her mother Feb. 7.
She was held at Ansan prison camp for several weeks, before being transferred to North Korea's Domoon Prison on March 22, her mother said.
The account was confirmed by China-based South Korean missionary Chun Kiwon, who said that Kim was apparently sent back before other hunger strikers at the camp. "We have tried very hard to set her free, but I was told that she was already sent back to North Korea. I do not know why, but she was arrested and sent back before other protestors," said Chun, who works with the Doorihana Mission.
"I have to talk to her but it is not easy," said Kim's mother, who ekes out an illegal existence in China selling chilli paste. "I am dying to find out what happened to Soonjung...I know she will be executed. I think my son was also executed. I know for sure the North Korean government will send Soonjung to a prison camp, but I am not sure if they will really execute her."
North Korea has recently stepped up its efforts to crack down on defectors leaving through China, where a few hundred North Koreans have successfully sought political asylum in South Korean diplomatic missions and through other channels. As many as 300,000 North Koreans are believed to live in hiding in China, where they frequently suffer abuse and exploitation by local law enforcement bodies.
Under a U.N. refugee convention, China is obliged to not force defectors back to North Korea, where they face punishment, torture, and humiliation, according to human rights observers. The punishment for defecting is three years in a labor camp and can lead to execution.