U.S.-based Human Rights Watch says it has become more difficult for North Koreans to leave their country as the government in Pyongyang tries to increase its control over the flow of information.
“North Korea is expanding efforts to control its borders and reduce information flows in and out of the country by harshly punishing people trying to flee the country, and hitting those aiding them with harsher sentences,” the group said in a press release released from its Seoul office early this week.
In a phone interview with VOA's Korean service, Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director at Human Rights Watch, said the North Korean government feels it is under threat because “when people leave North Korea, they take their stories with them.”
“We are seeing people being punished more severely [than before] for exercising their basic rights to enter and leave their home country or to share and receive information,” Robertson said.
He added “It’s also much more difficult to, through China, to go to other places such as Laos and Thailand, where many North Koreans then are able to travel [defect] to South Korea.”
According to Robertson, it is also becoming much more difficult to communicate with North Koreans, particularly along the border with China.
North Korea, one of the most isolated countries in the world, has not responded to the allegations by Human Rights Watch.
Jee Abbey Lee contributed to this report, which was produced in collaboration with the VOA Korean service.