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'Wailing' NK Defector Caught After 40 Days on Run

Zhu Xianjian, who had 2 years left in Chinese prison sentence before he escaped, is recaptured
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 30, 2021 8:00 AM CST
NK Defector Who Made Dramatic Prison Break Is Recaptured
Zhu Xianjian.   (Jilin Prison, via CNN)

(Newser) – Zhu Xianjian had his 11-year sentence slashed two times due to good behavior, but his break out of a Chinese prison last month with two years left behind bars likely just nullified his chances for an early release. The 39-year-old defector from North Korea is about to find out: He was recaptured Sunday morning after 40-plus days on the run, with some wondering how he endured for so long in below-freezing temps, reports CNN. Zhu made national headlines after escaping from a prison in Jilin province on Oct. 18, with video of his escape going viral on Chinese social media.

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Zhu, who used to work in the coal mines in the North, was nabbed in Jilin in 2013 after earlier that year swimming across a river to make it into China, per court documents. In 2014, he was sentenced to 11 years in prison, accused of illegally coming across the border; stealing money, clothes, cigarettes, and phones from a Chinese village; and stabbing an elderly woman who confronted him, court records note, per the BBC. He'd served nine years of his sentence when he broke out of prison last month, with eight months knocked off for "earnestly abiding by prison regulations" and "receiving education and reform," per Insider.

The dramatic footage of his escape showed Zhu clearing an electric fence, leaping off a high prison wall, and being chased by guards. Authorities initially offered a $23,000 reward, but they then upped it substantially; Insider says it was raised to about $78,000, CNN to $100,000. The video of his capture near a Jilin lake, shared on state media over the weekend, was decidedly less triumphant than his escape footage, showing a weak-looking, "wailing" Zhu being carried by police by his arms and legs into a car, per CNN.

So why would someone so close to finishing up their sentence risk an escape like this? The BBC notes that one of the things awaiting Zhu upon his freedom was deportation back to North Korea, meaning he may have broken out of jail to avoid that fate. One silver lining for someone who's not Zhu: State media reports that a man who apparently resembled Zhu had been arrested five times during law enforcement's manhunt for the fugitive. "The guy who looks just like him can finally be free," one commenter reacted to a news story about Zhu's arrest, per CNN. (Read more defectors stories.)

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