A young North Korean defector named Jong Yol-Ri, who had earlier fled to the Korean Consulate General in Hong Kong seeking political asylum, has left the city and landed in South Korea after an 80-day hideout, diplomatic sources confirmed with FactWire News Agency on Wednesday.
FactWire released the news report only upon confirming the 18-year-old’s safe arrival in South Korea.
Seoul’s YTN news channel reported at the end of August that Jong had safely reached a third country. However, FactWire reporters verified with diplomatic sources that Jong was in fact still staying at the Korean Consulate General in Hong Kong at the time.
From late August to early September, Jong was seen active in his temporary residence in the Korean Consulate General in Hong Kong. FactWire reporters made observations both inside and outside the Far East Finance Centre in Admiralty, where the Korean Consulate General in Hong Kong is located. Jong was seen making his bed and doing clean-up in a well-lit room with loosely-drawn curtains. On one evening he was seen to have put on a suit, but despite the attire change, did not leave Hong Kong.
The Consulate was reported to have bought clothes for Jong to get him ready for his life in South Korea.
Security was visibly strengthened at the Far East Finance Centre during Jong’s stay in Hong Kong. Plainclothes police officers, including officers from the police counter-terrorism division, were deployed outside every entrance to the building on day and night shifts. Groups of two to three officers, all well-built, were each stationed at the main entrance and side door, and in the shopping mall, elevator lobby and car park lift of the building. Each officer was carrying a large bag or rucksack, with a hands-free mobile phone device attached to their ear.
The Korean Consulate General in Hong Kong rents the 5th and 6th floors of the Far East Finance Centre. While the 5th floor is occupied by an office and the consulate’s visa section which is open to the general public, the 6th floor is a full-floor office with restricted access to staff only. The consulate had boosted security controls since Jong’s arrival. Visitors had to state clearly their reasons of visit, walk through a door-frame metal detector, and allow security guards to check their belongings.
South Korean diplomatic sources revealed to FactWire that a South Korean officer was sent to accompany Jong 24/7 during his stay in Hong Kong, even during meals and sleeping hours. Jong was provided with video games to kill time.
During the earlier part of Jong’s stay in the consulate, Jong was placed in the conference room on the 5th floor with a “Not In Service” sign posted on the door. Security guards were stationed outside. Because the conference room is not equipped with a toilet, when Jong needed one, he had to leave the room and walk to the public toilet located next to the consulate’s visa section. He was easily visible to the general public at the visa section as he walked along the corridor.
It was not until early August – a couple of weeks after his arrival at the consulate – that Jong move to a safer place. An Jae-Su, an officer from the Embassy of South Korea in Beijing, was responsible for escorting Jong out of Hong Kong. An met with officers from the Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and the Immigration Department of the Security Bureau in Hong Kong to discuss Jong’s departure. Not long after An reached the Korean Consulate General of Hong Kong, Jong moved out of the conference room and into another office on the same floor. Access to this office was restricted to staff only, with fingerprint recognition installed at the entrance and toilets inside.
Jong participated in the 57th International Mathematical Olympiad 2016 (IMO) in Hong Kong in July along with five other students and two leaders. Scoring two gold and four silver medals, the North Korean team came 6th among 109 countries or regions. According to the information provided on the IMO website, Jong is a three-time silver medalist and had participated in the IMO for three consecutive years. He was in Chiang Mai, Thailand in 2015, and Cape Town, South Africa in 2014.
North Korea sent its first team to participate in the IMO in 1990, and has since taken part in the competition 16 times. The country did not take part in the competition between 1993 and 2006. Since 2007, the country’s IMO team has been led by Yong Choi-Ham.
This year’s IMO was held between 6th to 16th July at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST). The North Korean team reported Jong missing after the competition. Upon reviewing CCTV footage, HKUST staff found out that Jong had left the campus alone. The two leaders of the North Korean team subsequently led the remaining 5 students back to North Korea via China. The news of a North Korean defector seeking refuge in the Korean Consulate General in Hong Kong leaked out a few days later.