North Korea continues to send people to political prison camps for trying to defect to South Korea or aiding others to escape despite a recent détente, a report says. People caught distributing or watching South Korean TV shows are still sometime publicly executed to make an example of them.
The information comes from this year's White Paper on North Korea published last week by the Korea Institute for National Unification.
While the human rights situation in the North remains bleak, the institute issued no press release about the publication as it had in previous years, apparently for fear that any widely publicized criticism of the North here could agitate the regime and jeopardize the détente.
Last week, North Korea abruptly canceled cross-border talks and unleashed a stream of invective after a highly publicized book launch by a prominent defector in the National Assembly.
According to the White Paper, the regime's human rights violations continue unabated. People are sent to brutal political prison camps simply for contacting family members who have escaped to South Korea.
The same fate awaits those who aid defectors or try to escape themselves.
The range of offenses punishable by death has if anything grown since North Korean leader Kim Jong-un took power, and public executions are a familiar horror in the border regions.
They are especially common in the border town of Hyesan in Ryanggang Province, but also happen in Chongjin, North Hamgyong Province and Sinuiju, North Pyongan Province, just across the border from China, and even in the capital Pyongyang.
Executions for distributing and viewing South Korean videos and selling narcotics are on the increase. In February 2017, some 20 people were killed by firing squad in South Hwanghae Province.
And in March 2015, five men in their 30s and 40s were publicly executed in Pyongsong, South Pyongan Province for watching South Korean TV and narcotics-related charges, according to witnesses.
Meanwhile, the U.S. has reacted to North Korea's demands for South Korea to send back a group of North Korean women who defected from a restaurant in China.
The U.S. State Department diplomatically urged all countries around the world to protect such refugees but clearly had South Korea in mind.
There are suggestions that South Korean intelligence services helped the women escape, and a recent cable TV program that gave the impression that they want to go back to North Korea stoked the North's claim that they were "abducted."
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