North Korea, which hasn't officially reported any cases of novel coronavirus infection, executed a couple earlier this month for trying to flee from the country during the Covid-19 national emergency. A teenager accompanying the couple was, however, spared from the harsh fate, according to reports.
The couple, both in their 50s, found it difficult to make their ends meet due to the coronavirus lockdown. They belonged to the northern Ryanggang province at the China-North border and took care of their 14-year-old nephew. The boy's father, who is the executed woman's younger brother, had already defected to South Korea.
The couple attempted to defect to the South to unite with their family, Radio Free Asia quoted a source as saying. However, they were caught at the China-North Korea border by the border guards. The border has been shut since January and is heavily guarded to prevent the spread of novel coronavirus.
They were tortured by the provincial security department into confessing that they were trying to defect to the South along with their nephew, the source said. They were later executed without any trial. As opposed to the norm, their execution wasn't carried out in full public view. The teenager was, however, spared because of his age.
As per the source, at a time when border security is extremely tight the escape attempt was extremely risky. North Korea's supreme leadership has reportedly ordered stern punishment for anyone who tries to flee the hermit kingdom during the emergency period.
According to another source quoted by the RFA, the execution story is spreading like wildfire, among Ryanggang residents. They are terrified with the fact that the couple was instantly executed, before they could even "take a single step into the Yalu river", the source said. Yalu, also known as Amrok or Amnok, is the river that flows through the border of China and the North.
Coronavirus in North Korea
The secretive nation, which shares borders with both China and South Korea, hasn't reported a single case of novel coronavirus. China is where the disease originated and spread across the world and South Korea has reported over 11,000 cases, according to John Hopkins' tally.
Earlier this month, China placed its north-eastern city of Shulan situated in Jilin province, near the China-North border, under lock-down due to Covid-19 outbreak. Also the country closed its border with China as early as in January, when the outbreak was still in its initial phase.
Earlier this month, in a verbal message sent to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Chinese President Xi Jinping expressed his willingness to provide medical aid to the North as part of the fight against Covid-19, BBC reported. Late in April, China sent an unspecified number of test kits to North Korea, 'in case of future need', China's CGTN reported. All such events have raised suspicion over coronavirus outbreak in the country.