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North Korean defectors forced to pay more in bribes, research says

North Korea is meting out heavier punishment for defectors who must pay more in bribes than in the past, a new South Korean white paper said Friday. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI
North Korea is meting out heavier punishment for defectors who must pay more in bribes than in the past, a new South Korean white paper said Friday. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo

July 23 (UPI) -- North Korea is cracking down on defections as arbitrary home searches and surveillance are on the rise, according to a new annual report from Seoul's Korea Institute for National Unification.

The 2021 White Paper on Human Rights in North Korea published Friday states North Koreans who attempt to flee the country face heavy punishment. The price of bribes is on the rise for individuals seeking lighter penalties, Newsis reported.

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Defectors in the South have said they often make multiple attempts to leave the country because of the high likelihood of arrest. The number of "successful defections" has "decreased significantly," the South Korean white paper said.

Invasions of privacy are also common in North Korea. Wiretapping of homes and arbitrary or illegal house searches are ongoing and are expected to "further increase in the name of establishing a law-abiding ethos and socialist lifestyle," South Korean researchers said.

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House searches in North Korea are deemed illegal if they are carried out without a warrant. Defectors in the South said more searches are being carried out without authorization on a "limited scale." The evaluation of the searches among North Koreans as illicit "provides a glimpse of the North Korean people's [rising] awareness of rights," the South Korean paper said.

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The South's researchers also said that distrust of authority is growing in North Korea after alleged cases of "extortion." North Korean officials enrich themselves by demanding money and valuables during house searches, the paper said.

North Korea is also cracking down on digital content found on personal computers and mobile phones, with heavier punishment for people who download and watch South Korean TV shows or music than in the past, the report said.

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But the crackdown has failed to eliminate the "desire and demand for information access" among North Koreans.

The 2021 South Korean white paper includes testimonies from 50 North Korean defectors, according to local paper Sports Kyunghyang.

Fewer defectors have resettled in the South during the coronavirus pandemic, Seoul has said.

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