North Korean Defector Is Recaptured After Daring Escape From Chinese Prison

Zhu Xianjian escaped from a prison in the northeastern city of Jilin.
State Media

Zhu Xianjian’s bold prison break even led to speculation online that he was a former member of the North Korean military, a report said.

A North Korean man who escaped from a Chinese prison and spent 40 days on the run in freezing temperatures has been recaptured, according to Chinese authorities. 

The 39-year-old man, identified as Zhu Xianjian was arrested by Jilin police at 10 a.m. on Sunday, authorities said in a brief statement, the BBC reported.

The state-run Global Times posted a video of the arrest that showed footage of Xianjian being carried out by law enforcement looking frail and distraught. The publication wrote that he was believed to have been shot in the leg and was sent to the hospital for treatment, CNN reported.

The state-run Beijing News released a video of Xianjian’s daring exit plan on the night of Oct. 19 in the northeastern city of Jilin. Footage shows him climbing a prison shed and scaling its rooftop before he vaulted over the nearest electric fence to freedom. The video also showed prison guards attempting to chase him, according to the BBC.

Xianjian’s bold prison break even led to speculation online that he was a former member of the North Korean military, CNN reported.

State media reported that the video went viral, and attracted more than 800 million views on Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter.

To help generate interest in his capture, the authorities offered a reward that went from $23,000 to a staggering $100,000, more than 350 times the average monthly income of local residents, to help find Xianjian, the news outlet reported.

State media reported that during their manhunt, the police mistakenly arrested another man, who resembled Xianjian, CNN reported.

According to reports, Xianjian, swam across a river separating North Korea from China in 2013. According to Chinese court records, he robbed several houses in a nearby village stealing valuables and stabbed an elderly woman who discovered him before he was arrested by the authorities, the BBC reported. 

A year later he was arrested and sentenced to 11 years behind bars for illegal border crossing, larceny, and robbery, to be followed by his deportation, court documents reveal.

Xianjian had served nine years and had two years left of his sentence.

While many North Korean defectors would be considered refugees under international law, China labels them illegal economic migrants and enforces repatriation under an agreement with its longtime ally, The Washington Post reported. 

In an interview with The Washington Post, Lina Yoon, a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch said: “in recent years Pyongyang had substantially increased the prison sentences of defectors who were forcibly repatriated. In addition to “backbreaking labor,” former defectors may be subject to torture and sexual violence,” she said.

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