TESTIMONY: Kim Cheol-joon
Kim Cheol-joon (R), a friend (L); photo taken on November 20, 2017 while waiting in China to go to South Korea. They were arrested and repatriated only three days after this photo was taken.
On November 8, 2017, Kim Cheol-joon escaped North Korea and arrived in Yanji, China with a friend. In order to flee to South Korea, he asked Jung Gwang-il for help, and Jung sought out a broker to help him escape. Due to lack of coordination among the brokers, their departure from Yanji was delayed. One of the brokers was arrested by the SSD. After interrogation under torture, the broker told the SSD of Kim and his friend’s escape from North Korea and their plan to go to South Korea. The SSD was already aware that Kim was a relative of Jung, who had escaped North Korea and was leading a North Korean human rights organization (No Chain) after his arrival in South Korea. The SSD requested the cooperation of the Chinese police in arresting Kim and others who were with him.
On November 26, 2017, following the SSD’s request, Chinese border guards arrested Kim and his friend at the broker’s house where they were staying in Yanji. Following their arrest, they were transferred to the SSD in only three days. North Korean defectors who are arrested in China typically undergo at least three to four weeks of initial investigation before being repatriated to North Korea, but Kim and his friend was transferred in only three days because the request had come directly from the SSD.
To determine the whereabouts of her brother, Kim In-sook asked her acquaintances in North Korea find out about the SSD’s investigation process. They informed her that her brother had been immediately transferred from China to North Korea because the arrest was requested by the SSD. While she knew that her brother and his friend were under interrogation at Hoeryeong City SSD, no one knew what charges or sentences they faced.
In March 2018, Kim was contacted by an acquaintance in North Korea and was informed that Kim and his friend were to be sent to a political prison camp following three months of interrogation. According to this acquaintance, the SSD already knew that Kim had escaped North Korea with the intention of going to South Korea. Moreover, because Kim had relatives who had already escaped to South Korea, he was likely to be given a harsher sentence. This acquaintance also did not know which political prison camp Kim and his friend were going to be sent to, or how long their sentence was.