The unexpected release of a North Korean woman widely expected to be sentenced to life in a political prison camp, offers a rare glimpse of hope that the authorities in the repressive state may be loosening their iron grip on the population.
Koo Jeong-hwa, who was detained after she crossed the Chinese-Korean border with eight other people including her four-year-old son, was forcibly returned to North Korea by the Chinese authorities on 17 November 2017. She had been held in a detention centre in Hoeryeong City since then, accused of committing treason for leaving her country.
Koo Jeong-hwa’s son was originally detained alongside her but was sent to his grandmother after 20 days because the detention facility said it could not take care of him. He was suffering from frostbite on his hands and feet. Though released from the detention centre, he was still at risk of being sent to a political prison camp with her had she been sentenced, due to the “guilt by association” practice in North Korea that often detains entire families of those found guilty.