Djong Koun Tchona, the North Korean seeking asylum in Russia is for the moment safe


The Russian Civic Assistance Committee reports that the imminent danger facing Djong Koun Tchona of being illegally handed over to the North Korean authorities has thankfully abated. 

Most understandably, some of the details previously released were deliberately altered to protect Djong Koun Tchona’s safety. Svetlana Gannushkina, Director of the Civic Assistance Committee stresses that the law enforcement agencies must carry out a thorough investigation into Djong Koun Tchona’s abduction. They must particularly ascertain the role played by enforcement officers, since none of it could have happened without their involvement.

A most cheering aspect of this case is the efficient response of various structures. The European Court of Human Rights immediately applied Rule 40, urgently informing the Russian Federation Government of the complaint received over Djong Koun Tchona’s abduction.

The Civic Assistance Committee expresses its deep thanks to the Human Rights Ombudsperson’s Office in Prymorsky Krai for their assistance in carrying out a rescue operation and officers of the Vladivostok police for ensuring the safety of those involved in the operation.

Djong Koun Tchona arrived in Russia from North Korea ten years ago as part of construction brigade.  The work conditions and pay prompted him to leave the brigade and find work for himself.  For the last six years he has lived with his common law wife, Anna Nikanorova. They have a son who is three and a half.

Having approached the Civic Assistance Committee in April 2007 for advice on how to legalize his position, Djong Koun Tchona applied to the Russian Federal Migration Service for refugee status and to the UNHCR representative office for international protection since North Korea is notorious for its violations of human rights.

The story unfortunately found a continuation at the beginning of November. As we have reported here already, Djong Koun Tchona vanished after being called to the Federal Migration Service office in the centre of Moscow.  He rang his wife from the office to say he’d been asked to wait half an hour.  She heard nothing from him, and turned the next day to both the Civic Assistance Committee and the UNHCR in Moscow.  They made urgent requests for information to the Prosecutor General, the Federal Security Service [FSB] and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Human Rights Ombudsperson also became involved.

As we reported, Djong Koun Tchona was indeed abducted, and after being taken first to a police station near the Kremlin, and then to the North Korean embassy where documents were issued for him under a false name, he was forcibly transported by plane from Vnukovo Airport to Khabarovsk in the Russian Far East.  He believes this was carried out by the FSB.  From conversations in his presence, he understood that the plan was to send him, again under a false name, to North Korea.  These details he was able to pass to his wife after escaping from his captors by jumping from a fourth floor window of a building near the airport in Khabarovsk.

Given the disturbing details of this tale, there is yet one more cheering piece of information to be mentioned.  Djong Koun Tchona, after fleeing, found refuge with some people who also let him use their phone and contact his wife.

On 12 November, during another phone call, it transpired that Djong Koun Tchona was actually in hiding near Vladivostok.  It was agreed that if his wife and members of the Civic Assistance Committee could get there, the person giving him refugee would meet them at the airport.

On 13 November Vladimir Lukin, the Human Rights Ombudsperson contacted the Ombudsperson for Prymorsky Krai, and arranged that the latter would meet Djong Koun Tchona’s wife, lawyer and representatives of the UNHCR, and would also hold talks with the office of the Migration Service.  Svetlana Gannushkina, Director of the Civic Assistance Committee at the Moscow end arranged with the UNHCR for their representatives to go to Vladivostok.   

It is no short journey to Vladivostok, and the group of four having set out on 14 November arrived the next morning. They were met at the airport not only by the Ombudsperson, but by Valery and Ludmila who had given Djong Koun Tchona shelter. The latter explained how to find their home, and then they separated with the group from Moscow going with an Ombudsperson’s representative to the regional department of the Migration Service to organize documents for Djong Koun Tchona.

While they were there Valery rang to say that police office officers had twice arrived intending to search their home, however he had refused them entry demanding that they produce a search warrant.  The third time the police officers took Ludmila and her fourteen year old daughter away with them.

The group from Moscow, together with representatives of the Ombudsperson set off immediately to get Djong Koun Tchona. 

On arrival they noticed a jeep standing near Valery’s home. Valery and Anna hurriedly brought Djong out and got him into one of the cars. As soon as the cars set off, two jeeps with passengers who may well have been Korean, began moving towards them.

A chase began during which the Ombudsperson’s representatives showed remarkable quick thinking and excellent driving skills. They let the car with Djong go ahead, while the other started leading their pursuers in the wrong direction. The jeeps only gave up in Vladivostok.

For a last touch to the James Bond nature of this story we would mention the fact that during the chase, the UNHCR office in Moscow received SMS messages from its representatives in the car which were different from those in fact sent.

The incredible adventure ended true to genre with Ludmila being released, all reaching the Migration Service Office where Djong Koun Tchona was provided with identification papers. The Vladivostok department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs provided a guard and the night passed without incident. On 16 November Djong Koun Tchonaand his wife were taken to a safe place

Based on a report by Svetlana Gannushkina from the Civic Assistance Committee

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