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Chad O'Carroll has written on North Korea since 2010 and writes between London and Seoul.
The ‘Adrian Hong Chang’ accused this week of leading a dramatic break-in at the DPRK embassy in Spain is a U.S.-based human rights activist long involved in North Korea-related issues, multiple sources confirmed to NK News on Wednesday.
Adrian Hong, who the Spanish High Court alleges led a group of ten in the raid, was a founder of the Liberty in North Korea (LiNK) NGO.
From 2015 he served as head of the Joseon Institute, an organization preparing for “increasingly imminent, dramatic change in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).”
The organization’s website – which appears to have been dormant since August 2017 – said that while its work “remains highly sensitive,” it would in the future be willing to provide “full cooperation” to “whatever entity is presiding over change” in the DPRK.
“The world should not wait until crises emerge to react – it can prepare now, today, to soften a future North Korean landing…” promotional material on the organization’s website reads.
Its mission statement bears similarities to that of the secretive Cheollima Civil Defense (CCD) “government-in-exile” organization, which is yet to reveal its identity but took responsibility for the raid in a statement issued on Tuesday.
Cheollima, which in the past provided assistance to the son of the assassinated half-brother of Kim Jong Un, insisted in its statement that the raid was “not an attack” but rather a response to an “urgent situation in the Madrid embassy.”
One Washington, D.C.-based human rights activist familiar with Hong’s activities said the Joseon Institute was “a cover probably, to prepare for all of this.”
“It is Adrian (who is) behind this whole Cheollima Civil Defense,” they said, corroborating what two other sources told NK News.
“His parents are/were missionaries to Mexico, so I think that’s how he got a Mexican passport.”
Though Hong is a U.S. resident, the Spanish court described him as being a Mexican passport holder in its information release on Tuesday.
“This latest stunt… he’s done something similar in 2006 when he needlessly went to China and got arrested with some North Korean refugees,” the activist continued.
During his early tenure as LiNK’s executive director in 2006, Adrian Hong was arrested in China along with two LiNK employees and six North Korean defectors.
Hong and the LiNK staff were attempting to move the defectors through China, though Hong was reportedly taken from his hotel room in Beijing to a prison in Shenyang.
The three LiNK employees were later deported back to the United States, and Hong later wrote about the arrest and the six detained North Koreans, who were dubbed “the Shenyang Six.”
“We know how agonizing it is to think of the possible fate of the Shenyang Six if things do not go well in negotiations with the People’s Republic of China,” Hong wrote, later criticizing the U.S. consulate in Shenyang for turning away the defectors.
“It is absolutely unacceptable and shameful that a United States post will turn away legitimate asylum seekers, especially those that are targeted for capture and repatriation by local authorities.”
While the defectors eventually made it safely to South Korea and were not repatriated back to North Korea, one NGO source working on DPRK issues told NK News in 2014 they believed Hong’s approach was dangerous.
“As you already know, the Founder of LiNK was Adrian Hong and he had a strong regime change approach and put people at risk when he was ‘saving them’,” they said at the time.
“He was a real piece of work,” the source continued, describing his efforts as “so messed up and depressing… all about victims and not about resilience.”
The activist who spoke to NK News this week said they believed his involvement in the Spanish embassy break-in last month showed that Hong had “got sloppy” over the years.
“He touted the fact that he’s prepared for seven years for the Joseon Institute, and yet it all came unraveled in a botched raid that miraculously didn’t have any of them get arrested or killed,” they said.
In an emailed statement on Wednesday, Liberty in North Korea distanced themselves with Hong.
“Adrian Hong was a co-founder of Liberty in North Korea as a college student but has had no involvement with the organization for over ten years,” Hannah Song, CEO of LiNK, said.
“We have no knowledge of his recent activities, and we have no information on the Madrid Embassy incident other than what has been published by the media.”
Hong did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment by NK News.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: Joseon Institute website