North Koreans 'brutally executed' for breaking COVID-19 restrictions, high-ranking defector reports

South Korean army soldiers stand guard during a reopening ceremony for border village of Panmunjom between South and North Korea in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) on November 04, 2020, in Panmunjom, South Korea. Unification Minister Lee In-young called Wednesday for North Korea to restore severed cross-border communications lines and resume the operation of a now-destructed joint liaison office to bring the stalled inter-Korean relations back on track | Lee Jin-Man-Pool/Getty Images

North Korean citizens are being told that the United States is plotting to spread the COVID-19 virus to “harm the highest dignity,” dictator Kim Jong Un. As a result, those who fail to keep the Hermit kingdom's quarantine orders are “brutally executed,” North Korea’s highest-ranking defector has revealed. 

Citing an “internal source,” Ri Jong Ho, who was an adviser to the late dictator Kim Jong Il, said during the Defense Forum Foundation’s latest webinar, “What to Do About North Korea,” that North Korean authorities' coronavirus quarantine is entirely focused on keeping Kim Jong Un safe. 

“The regime gave instruction to its people that external enemies such as the United States and South Korea are plotting to spread the virus to harm the highest dignity,” he said. “That's why the Kim regime is conducting quarantine measures abnormally against the coronavirus.”

As part of this effort, North Korea has “blocked all border customs and strictly cracked down on smuggling activities by creating a 2 kilometer (1.24-mile) buffer zone along the long border,” Ho said, in addition to blocking rivers and seas and outsiders from entering the country. 

“They even brutally executed people for failing to keep the coronavirus quarantine order,” he said. “The North Korean authorities could continue to block everything until the virus is completely eliminated in China, South Korea and the United States by linking the coronavirus with the safety of the highest dignity, Kim Jong-Un.”

Despite reports suggesting Kim Jong Un is ill, Ho said the Communist dictator is “doing well despite the fact that he’s having some physical difficulties.”

“He has no problem ruling over the people of North Korea at this moment,” he said. 

In October, during a military parade commemorating the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Workers' Party, Kim Jong Un said he was grateful no one in his country had contracted the “malignant virus.”

“The fact that we have defended all our people from the harmful epidemic disease sweeping the whole world can be said to be a natural duty and success of our party,” Kim reportedly declared.

Human rights activists, however, have alerted the global community to the realities inside North Korea, which is that people infected with COVID-19 are being placed in “quarantine camps” where they are deprived of food, water, and medicine, leading to starvation and death.

For nearly 30 years, Ho served dictator Kim Jong Il in North Korea by advising the leader on economic development. He made billions for the regime through his work in "Bureau 39," the office in charge of bringing in hard currency for the regime, and as founder and President of the Daehung Shipping & Trading Company.

His efforts led to him receiving numerous awards including the Hero of Labor Award, which is the highest civilian honor in North Korea.

But in October 2014, Ho decided to seek asylum because he was “terribly shocked” to see Kim Jong Un “brutally execute his uncle, Jang Song Thaek, hundreds of senior officials, and his aides, and imprison tens of thousands of their family members into political prison camps.”

“At that time, a number of my colleagues and acquaintances were horribly executed with the anticraft machine guns, and my children's friends were also taken to the notorious political prison camps,” he said. “Many people were executed throughout the year, and day after day, the terrible news of the executions has spread.”

Ho said he feared his family could be the regime’s next target, adding: “I could no longer see any hope in North Korea, and I was determined to do something for the freedom and human rights of North Koreans.”

During the webinar, Ho likened the communist dictatorial system of North Korea to a “cult,” describing how Kim Jong Un enjoys absolute authority by ensuring people “worship and obey him.” The Kim family has been in power for three generations.

Still, Ho expressed optimism that, "with the help from the outside,” North Korea can change. He encouraged the international community to “focus on opening the rogue state to the world and ameliorating human rights violations inside North Korea” and stressed the importance of education.

“We can help North Koreans understand what democracy is,” he said. “At the same time, we need to help them understand why they cannot bring changes in North Korea. So I recommend utilizing the voices of North Korean defectors living in South Korea through Free North Korea Radio so that way people of North Korea understand that outside of North Korea is not a dangerous world.”

According to Ho, who spent much of his career making sure North Korea could evade sanctions, strong sanctions against the isolated country are the “most effective means” of pressuring the Kim regime to complete its denuclearization and resolve its human rights issues.

He noted that North Korea has consistently developed nuclear weapons over the past decades, “deceiving the United States” and other world leaders. 

“However, the U.S. policy toward North Korea has been changed with each new administration. Therefore, I hope the next administration will continue to maintain its policy of upgrading and strengthening sanctions against North Korea until the Kim regime completes its denuclearization.”

“If we continue to tighten sanctions against North Korea, Kim Jong Un will eventually choose either to collapse like the Soviet Union with nuclear weapons or to denuclearize.”

The human rights abuses occurring under the Kim regime are well documented. North Korea is ranked as the No. 1 persecutor of Christians in the world by Open Doors USA's 2020 World Watch List.

According to a recent report from Korea Future Initiative, a nonprofit charitable organization, most religious freedom violations in North Korea are against Christians.

More than 200 Christians were identified as victims punished for crimes, including religious practice, religious activities in China, possessing religious items, contact with religious persons, attending a place of worship, and sharing religious beliefs. 

The report documented the various methods of torture victims endured in North Korea’s prison camps, including strangulation, starvation, being forced to ingest polluted food, sleep deprivation, and excessive beating.

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