North Korea charges senior citizen with spying for visiting Christian relatives in China

(Reuters/Damir Sagolj)A North Korean soldier looks from a watchtower on the banks of the Yalu River, just north of Sinuiju, North Korea, March 31, 2017.

North Korean authorities in Yanggang province have charged a 61-year-old man with spying after he reportedly visited his Christian relatives in China.

Kim Seung-mo, a resident of the Wiyon area of Hyesan city in Yanggang province, has been arrested by the authorities on June 3 after he returned from China, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported.

An unnamed source told RFA that Kim was arrested on the third day after his return from visiting his relatives in China. He said that he saw the 61-year-old man being dragged by state security officials in front of Wiyon train station.

Kim was then shackled and tied with a rope as he was dragged out from a town behind Wiyon brewery, according to the anonymous source.

The source further noted that Kim had been violently assaulted because he had split lips and black eyes, and he seemed to have sustained an injury to one of his legs.

Another unnamed source told RFA that Kim used to work at the Wiyon substation where electricity is converted into a distributable voltage, but he had retired in March.

"Since he retired, he hasn't been doing anything, though he recently visited relatives in China to lend a hand to his wife who sells used clothes on the black market," the second source who requested anonymity stated.

"After he came back from China, he openly told his neighbors that his relatives attended a Christian church, and the church's pastor collected many used clothes from parishioners for him," he said.

He surmised that someone may have informed state security agents about Kim's contact with Christians in China.

"All North Korean travelers returning from China are required to report their whereabouts and details about their activities," he noted.

"In Kim's case, he was arrested on charges of spying because he did not report the fact that his relatives are churchgoers and that the church pastor helped him," he went on to say.

Persecution watchdog group Open Doors has reported that between 50,000 and 70,000 Christians are suffering in labor camps in North Korea. The group has ranked the communist regime as the most oppressive place in the world for Christians on the World Watch List for the past 15 years.

Christians are forced to hide their faith from government authorities, neighbors and even their own children to avoid getting arrested, imprisoned or killed. According to T. Kumar, the director for international advocacy at Amnesty International USA, there are at least 60,000 underground Christians residing in three provinces in the western corridor of North Korea.

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