North Korean Defector Recaptured by Authorities in China After More Than 40 Days on the Run

By Katabella Roberts
Katabella Roberts
Katabella Roberts
Katabella Roberts is a reporter currently based in Turkey. She covers news and business for The Epoch Times, focusing primarily on the United States.
November 30, 2021 Updated: November 30, 2021

A North Korean defector who escaped from prison in China has been recaptured by authorities after more than 40 days on the run, according to Chinese officials.

The 39-year-old, identified by Chinese authorities as Zhu Xianjian, is a former North Korean special forces soldier who escaped from a northeastern China prison on Oct. 18.

Zhu had entered China illegally on July 21, 2013 and was a coal miner in North Korea’s North Hamgyong Province at the time. He was arrested and imprisoned after robbing several villagers and stabbing a woman while trying to take her handbag the following day. The handbag contained $232 in cash, five bank deposit books, two photo IDs, and some candies, according to a court ruling.

At the time, Chinese state media reported that in 22 months, Zhu would be discharged from prison and sent back to North Korea.

However, the ​​Pyongyang authorities treat defectors badly, and most of them end up being killed. Zhu reportedly feared he would be executed and decided to break out of jail before serving the whole sentence.

Officials were previously offering up to $23,460 for his capture and $15,640 for valid information leading to his capture.

Chinese police said in a brief statement on Sunday that Zhu had been detained at around 10 a.m. local time on Sunday morning. They did not provide further details. Officials said they will provide further information regarding his capture in the future.

According to a statement released by the public security bureau of Jilin city, the prison escapee was caught by local police in Fengman district and local residents said Zhu had hidden in an abandoned tourist attraction, the state-run Chinese outlet Global Times reported.

Local residents said their homes had been ransacked and their belongings were stolen and reported the incidents to the police. In one of the targeted homes, a cigarette butt had been left behind and officials ran a DNA analysis before confirming it belonged to Zhu. It then took police two days and one night to track the escapee down on the island, according to the state-run Chinese outlet.

Video footage of his arrest was shared by state-affiliated outlet Red Star News. Footage shows an emaciated-looking Zhu being carried away by police officers before being placed in a vehicle. On multiple occasions, he appears to be in pain. The escapee is later placed on the floor in an undisclosed location.

Chinese police released video footage of Zhu’s dramatic escape, captured on two surveillance cameras, in October and it quickly went viral online. It showed the short and slim fugitive climbing an iron gate on a shed next to the prison wall at around 6 p.m. on Oct. 18.

He then ran across the roof before using a rope to damage the electric fence, setting off a series of sparks. He appeared to be wearing just one shoe at the time.

Prison guards then arrive at the shed but do not climb on it and instead stand watching as Zhu damages the electric fence and then jumps off the 19.68-foot wall.

A second surveillance video showed Zhu falling down after jumping off the wall, and lying motionless on the ground for a short time before standing up and running away.

On March 25, 2014, Zhu was sentenced to 11 years and three months in prison, after which he would be returned to North Korea.

Zhu performed well in prison and his sentence was reduced twice. If he hadn’t escaped the prison, he would have been sent back to North Korea on Aug. 21, 2023.

Nicole Hao contributed to this report.

Katabella Roberts is a reporter currently based in Turkey. She covers news and business for The Epoch Times, focusing primarily on the United States.