(Photo) A photograph taken from China of Hyesan while under lockdown. Said the Chinese photographer, “All the people have disappeared.” February 8, 2021 (ASIAPRESS)

◆ Lockdown ordered to prevent smuggling and defection, not coronavirus

According to multiple reporting partners, the lockdown in Hyesan, Ryanggang Province, which began on January 29, was lifted at midnight on February 15.

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Hyesan had been placed in lockdown for the second time since November of last year- despite no coronavirus infections being detected. According to sources, the reason behind the lockdown was prevention of smuggling and defections at the Chinese border. Authorities had declared such activities to be particularly dangerous, pointing to the risk of coronavirus being brought into the country by people illegally travelling to and from China.

◆ Deaths rising due to lack of access to food and medicine

During the lockdown, markets were closed and residents were forbidden from leaving their homes, making it very difficult to obtain daily necessities.

According to a resident of Hyesan, “Many people died because they couldn’t get medicine despite being sick. There will also have been a significant number of deaths due to starvation.”

The lockdown in Hyesan was originally set to last for 30 days but was lifted slightly earlier. Authorities reportedly explained to residents that this was due to “the many people with living difficulties.” Though the lockdown is now over, some have been warned that the lockdown could be resumed at any time if authorities detect further smuggling or illegal crossings along the Chinese border.

A reporting partner explained, “A small number of illegal activities are causing everyone in Hyesan to suffer. We have been told at the inminban (local political unit) meetings to report suspicious activities committed by those among us.” The intention of such an order, one can infer, is to impose responsibility on all residents.

Though Hyesan was originally placed in lockdown under the pretext of coronavirus prevention, the true purpose of the order seems to have been strengthening border control and preventing defections. (Kang Ji-won)

※ASIAPRESS contacts its reporting partners in North Korea through smuggled Chinese mobile phones.

Editor’s notes on North Korean reporters

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