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A family of five North Korean defectors took cyanide to escape being sent back to North Korea by the Chinese government.

The family had planned to defect to South Korea by traveling through China. They had made their way thousands of miles into China when Chinese authorities arrested them in the Yunnan Province in Southwest China, according to reports.

“They killed themselves by taking poison after they were taken to Shenyang, Liaoning Province three days ago and faced deportation to the North,” Activist Kim Hee-tae told the Chosun Ilbo. "Right after they were caught in Yunnan, they tried to bribe their way out through a local fixer, but once they were taken to Shenyang they probably lost hope and killed themselves.”

According to the Chosun Ilbo, the family included a middle aged senior official of the Korean Workers Party, his wife, son, and two daughters. They were arrested with a number of other North Korean defectors who are still alive and facing deportation.

“The North Korean defectors who were apprehended in the Security Service committed suicide because they were afraid of severe punishment after the North's assassination, but they were arrested together, and the [other] North Korean defectors are still trapped in the police station in the area,” a source from the Chosun Dynasty in Shenyang, Liaoning Province, China, told Radio Free Asia. “The surviving North Koreans will soon be repatriated to North Korea.”

North Korea’s Ministry of People’s Security declared defection a crime of “treachery against the nation” in 2010. Defectors caught trying to flee the nation face seven to 15 years of forced labor in prison camps, detention in political prison camps, or execution, according to the Human Rights Watch.

Officials also torture every defector to discover where they went, who they communicated with, and what they had done, reported the Human Rights Watch.

The family who took poison likely feared that their father’s political position would trap them in the kwanliso system of political prison camps. The camps are notorious for their extremely high death rates and systematic abuses. Prisoners face sexual violence, torture, and summary execution, as well as near starvation and a lack of significant medical care, said the Human Rights Watch.

China has recently ramped up arrests of North Korean defectors. Chinese authorities arrested 27 defectors in Yunnan during the month of July, as well as five others in Guangxi and 11 in the Jilin Province, according to the Chosun Ilbo.

“The biggest problem now is China,” North Korean defector Grace Jo told the Daily Caller. “China needs to stop sending people back. Thousands of people are trying to get out of North Korea, but the Chinese are standing in their way.”