Marchers to urge Beijing to stop repatriating North Korean defectors

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 December, 2013, 5:09am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 December, 2013, 1:00pm

A defectors' rights group will march to the North Korean consulate in Hong Kong today as political intrigue continues after the execution of Jang Song-thaek.

In a bid to boost interest in the protest, NK Defectors Concern - a small organisation set up in 2012 - has hired a Hong Kong lookalike of the country's leader, Kim Jong-un, to take part.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un takes a stroll in Hong Kong, or did he?

The group opposes repatriation of North Koreans who defect to China, and will call on Pyongyang to improve human rights and immediately abolish political prisoner camps.

"We urge the Chinese government to stop repatriating North Korean defectors," said 23-year-old Owen Lau Kwun-hang, a secondary school teacher and one of the four founders of the group.

They expect 10 to 20 people to take part in the march from Immigration Tower in Wan Chai to the North Korean consulate in the nearby China Resources Building.

The lookalike, who gives his name only as Howard and who was approached by the group to take part, said he supported the march's aims but was still charging the group a fee, albeit a reduced one. "They want defectors to be sent back to a third country," he said.

Howard recently rose to fame after starring as the North Korean leader in a commercial for an Israeli burger chain.

With the extra attention that Howard's famous face brings, the group hopes to direct the focus of people in Hong Kong and mainland China to the plight of defectors who try to make it across the border to China.

In a statement released ahead of the protest, the group said: "To stop North Korean defectors entering China, Chinese authorities install silent alarms inside residences near North Korea border. If the defectors seek help from Chinese residents, those residents could secretly report [them] to police through the alarm system.

"The police and border guards will then [come] to the residence and arrest the defectors."

Since Kim Jong-un came to power in late 2011, North Korea has imposed stricter border controls. North Korean troops stationed on the Tumen River shoot defectors attempting to reach Chinese soil. The number of defectors peaked in 2009 at just under 3,000, but dropped to 1,509 last year, according to figures from South Korea's Unification Ministry.

A recent Amnesty International report said satellite images show the largest political prisoner camps are seeing more industrial activity and have been slightly expanded since Kim Jong-un came to power in 2011.

NK Defectors Concern is made up of four founders and 20 volunteers. The march is expected to include both local Hong Kong activists and South Korean expatriates living in the city. There are dozens of North Korean citizens living in Hong Kong, including a handful of students.