Abandon All Hope Ye Who Attempt to Flee

by Ryan Sanford Smith


Grisly and apt comparisons between North Korea and a prison or hostage situation were needlessly, grimly reinforced yet again this week as sources in both China as well as from activist groups in South Korea report that three middle-aged North Korean men were shot dead by border guards as they attempted to defect into the Chinese border county of Changbai across the frozen Yalu river.

It seems worth noting that it’s telling of the situation inside North Korea that a country with China’s track record on human rights and freedom is a shining oasis of hope, worthy of risking nearly certain death to reach. Defections from North Korea are obviously nothing new, and the grave accounts given by those who’ve survived to say as much are always sobering against the recent backdrop of outpourings of sadness shown by  North Korean state-controlled media–the only media around, of course.

What is new is the blatant disregard shown now by these border guards, operating under ever-tightening orders from not only the new Dear Leader but the new Supreme Commander, Kim Jong-Un. As the AFP article elaborates, the violent denial of escape by these guards has been communicated freely to those in the border city they had fled, ensuring that no doubt remains in the minds of a starved, stunted, and desperate people as to what awaits any further attempts.

This news deflates any hope for change in North Korea’s interaction with the rest of the world as South Korea has rather absurdly sent a mourning delegation to the north while expressing optimism for better relations in the wake of Kim Jong-Il’s death. His well-groomed (and insultingly well-fed) heir couldn’t be less interested in relaxed relations or borders–like any tyrant worth his salt, he knows his pudgy, iron grip on power only continues by keeping his hostages at bay.