A family of five North Korean defectors committed suicide last week after they were arrested in China, according to various media reports.
The father, a former member of the Korean Workers’ Party, his wife, and their three children crossed the Yalu River into China earlier this month, reports Radio Free Asia. The family, determined to defect to South Korea via another country, made it to Yunnan Province in Southwest China, thousands of miles from the river, before they were arrested.
“Right after they were caught in Yunnan, they tried to bribe their way out through a local fixer, but once they were taken to Shenyang they probably lost hope,” Kim Hee-tae, an activist, told the Chosun Ilbo Sunday, “They killed themselves by taking poison after they were taken to Shenyang, Liaoning Province three days ago and faced deportation to the North.”
North Korean defectors are known to sometimes carry cyanide capsules, and suicide is not uncommon, although it is unusual for an entire family to commit suicide. The family “committed suicide because they were afraid of the severe punishment” they would face in North Korea, one of the brokers in China who was helping them escape revealed.
China is reportedly “unconditionally arresting” defectors, Chinese sources told RFA, and the Chosun Ilbo reports China has so far arrested 27 North Korean defectors in July. It is unclear why China is stepping up arrests.
The deceased family was arrested along with a number of other North Korean defectors who are still alive. They are expected to be sent home soon. North Korean defectors who are repatriated often face harsh prison sentences or worse.
“The biggest problem now is China,” North Korean defector Grace Jo previously told the Daily Caller News Foundation, “China needs to stop sending people back. Thousands of people are trying to get out of North Korea, but the Chinese are standing in their way.”
“Opening the gates will leave Kim Jong Un without a people to oppress and the North Korean government, which has negatively affected so many people, will fall,” she added.
China has grown frustrated with North Korea in recent months and has ramped up pressure on the regime by suspending coal imports and reducing petroleum exports, thus negatively impacting the North Korean economy. At the same time, Beijing remains hesitant to put the kind of pressure needed to cripple the regime on North Korea.
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