Prominent North Korean Defector Arrested For Spying After Sister Testifies Against Him

north korea police pyongyangFile Photo: North Korean police

One of the most high-profile defectors to escape North Korea has been arrested in Seoul on suspicion of spying for the North based on the testimony of his sister, Chico Harlan of The Washington Post reports.

“I don’t know why my sister has done this,” Yoo Woo-sung, 32, told The Post, adding that he feels “totally helpless.”

Court documents reveal Yoo’s sister told South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) that Yoo, a Chinese citizen who was born in North Korea, was working for the North’s secret police to spy on other defectors.

From The Post:

Yoo’s trial, which began May 9 and could continue for weeks, weighs two conflicting scenarios. In the first, argued by prosecutors, Yoo was threatened by the North into serving as a spy. In the other, put forward by the defence, Yoo is an innocent defector whose sister — after attempting her own defection to the South in October — was coerced into a wrongful confession by intelligence agents who interrogated her for more than two months and then held her in near-solitude for several months more.

Yoo’s transition to life in South Korea is abnormal among the 25,000 defectors, nearly all of whom arrived in the past two decades.

When he arrived in 2004, he earned a degree from one of the top universities in Seoul, and did numerous speaking engagements, parties, and meetings with fellow defectors. In 2011 he was hired at Seoul City Hall to help with welfare assistance programs, which many defectors use.

The ease at which Yoo was able to fit in sets him apart from most others who escaped the North — a country deeply rooted in propaganda, secrecy, and suspicion.

From “Escape from Camp 14” by Blaine Harden:

Nearly all of them struggle with basic reading and maths. Some are cognitively impaired, apparently from acute malnourishment as infants. Even among the brightest youngsters, their knowledge of world history essentially comprises the mythical personal stories of their Great Leader, Kim Il Sung, and his Dear Song, Kim Jong Il.

“Education in North Korea is useless for life in South Korea,” Gwak Jong-moon, principal of Hangyoreh, told me. “When you are too hungry, you don’t go to learn and teachers don’t go to teach. Many of our students have been hiding in China for years with no access to schools. As young children in North Korea, they grew up eating bark off trees and thinking it was normal.”

Yoo’s story is complicated by the fact that when he arrived in the South, he hid the fact that he was a Chinese citizen living in the North — meaning he should not have been entitled to automatic South Korean citizenship and benefits given to other defectors.

Check out Harlan’s full report at The Washington Post >

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