A North Korean nuclear scientist who defected to China in early November reportedly killed himself when he was deported back to North Korea.
A report by Radio Free Asia (RFA) quotes “high-level sources in North Korea” who identified the defector as Hyun Cheol-huh and said he was in his early fifties. There is some question as to whether that was his real name.
According to these sources, Hyun (assuming that was his name) led a physics research team at the State Academy of Sciences in Pyongyang. He took a leave of absence after displaying “signs of anxiety over his research projects,” visited relatives near the Chinese border, and then disappeared when he learned North Korean authorities were looking for him.
He was somehow allegedly able to cross the Tumen River, enter China, and link up with a group of other defectors. A North Korean state security agent infiltrated the group of defectors and alerted Chinese police, resulting in their arrest and forced repatriation.
Hyun is said to have concealed his occupation from Chinese police, which RFA’s sources deemed a fatal mistake because the Chinese might not have deported him if they knew he was a nuclear scientist.
A few hours after he was returned to North Korea on November 17 and was placed in solitary confinement by North Korea’s State Security Department pending interrogation, Hyun killed himself by drinking poison. This prevented the North Koreans from learning how he was able to escape the country, who helped him get away, and for that matter how he was able to smuggle poison into his cell.
The UK Telegraph noted on Friday that North Korean border security forces have been ordered to shoot defectors on sight, even if they make it across the border into China, and will be executed themselves if any more escape. The order seems to have been given following a string of high-profile defections into South Korea.