A woman in her fifties has been arrested in Ryanggang Province’s Kimjongsuk County after attempting to resist arrest with a kitchen knife when Ministry of State Security officers broke into the woman’s home illegally. The officers were reportedly conducting a crackdown on international phone calls at the time.
Sources in the area with direct knowledge of the incident told Daily NK that when the officers broke into the woman’s property, she screamed out and threatened the officers, causing the officers to physically assault and arrest the woman.
“The Kimjongsuk County woman was using the quiet hours late at night to make a phone call to China. The Kimjongsuk Country Security Department ascertained the location of the phone signal, leading to the confrontation. Ministry of State Security (MSS) officials conducting the investigation went to the house and knocked on the door, but there was no response. Sensing suspicious activity, the officers went to a local business to get a ladder so they could enter through a second-floor window. They then broke the window and entered the woman’s house,” a source in Ryanggang Province reported to Daily NK on April 7.
“The woman used a kitchen knife and tried to threaten the officers. But she wasn’t able to succeed and she was subdued on the spot. There were two or three agents at the scene. After this, the woman was taken to the MSS interrogation room and subjected to various kinds of torture. No one knows what kind of punishment the woman will receive in the days ahead.”
The MSS personnel who caught the woman were conducting a night patrol using a portable radio detector and detected the location of a phone being used at the house.
A separate source in Ryanggang Province confirmed the news, stating, “Kimjongsuk County is more rural than Hyesan City. In this remote area, MSS officers likely perceived the phone call with a foreign contact to be an illegal act in and of itself. But when the woman resisted arrest, the situation became much worse.”
In most cases, the source noted, the security officers demand a bribe from individuals caught making illegal phone calls. Those who refuse are arrested. But in this case, the officers seem to have provoked the woman and exacerbated the situation by breaking into the house to pursue the investigation.
According to article 241 of North Korea’s criminal code, “Law officers who illegally arrest, restrain, or issue a warrant, or illegally search a person’s body or private residence, or illegally confiscate property are to be subject to at least one year of labor training punishment.”
The MSS officers who arrested the woman have allegedly not reported the incident to their superiors due to the complexity of doing so. In addition, the officers have told local witnesses to keep quiet about the incident. In January, Kim Jong Un instructed the MSS not to commit “human rights violations,” and purged Kim Won Hong (the former head of the intelligence and security body) for abuse of power.
In light of the regime’s attempts to clean up the image of the country’s law enforcement agencies, this particular incident may elicit repercussions for those involved.
“The officers instructed witnesses at the scene not to divulge the events that had transpired and will no doubt do what they can to keep it under wraps. Because it happened late at night, ordinary people in the area continue to believe that it was just a thief. Given time, however, there is a chance that a lot of people will find out,” the second source said.
“In this kind of small town, rumors tend to spread quickly. Residents who are learning about the truth of the incident are responding critically by saying, ‘Are these security officers or thugs?’”
Both sources also indicated that residents who learn about the incident are changing their minds about MSS officers. In the past, MSS officers held wide powers and exercised authority with impunity, meaning that residents could not offer up the smallest form of resistance. But perceptions are changing.
“These days, if residents just sit still and do nothing, they will die. Residents believe in sacrificing themselves in order to keep their families alive. That’s why there are people using the phone even in rural places like this. They are speaking with contacts in China to engage in business and earn money. The residents in rural areas are willing to risk severe punishment in order to earn money to feed their families,” said the initial source.
“If the government was providing food for the residents, who would engage in such a dangerous activity? Residents these days are ready to oppose the MSS if they threaten their livelihoods.”