SEOUL, Sept. 2 (UPI) North Korea has tightened control at the China border, and freedom of movement has been significantly curtailed since Kim Jong Un fully assumed power in 2012, according to Human Rights Watch.
The current trends reverse a general movement toward greater mobility seen in the last years of Kim Jong Il‘s rule when defections increased, HRW Asia division deputy director Phil Robertson told reporters in Seoul on Wednesday.
The constraint on individual freedom now extends to technology, Robertson said, according to Yonhap. Under Kim Jong Un‘s leadership, the state has heightened surveillance of mobile phones. Walls have been built at the China border to make defections more difficult.
North Korean checkpoints now conduct a thorough search of computers and compact discs looking for media from the outside world. Any information flowing in from China, for example, is now strictly regulated, as are North Koreans who regularly travel across the border for business.
Robertson said North Korean defector demographics have changed in recent years – with people of a higher class standing willing to leave their homeland for a better life abroad.
North Korean defectors continue to risk their lives in China, where they are not recognized as refugees and when repatriated are punished or tortured by North Korean guards, according to Robertson. China has not been abiding by the U.N. refugee convention, he said, and has prevented international inspections at the border.
A higher class of defectors may be leaving North Korea at a time when purges of the elite have become more common under the current regime.