Senior North Korean party official killed in car accident

Kim Yang Gon, a senior party official of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), was killed in a car crash Tuesday, the official news agency KCNA reported Wednesday morning.

Before his death, Kim Yang Gon, 73, served as director of the United Front Department and secretary of the Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), two important posts. He became a member of the political bureau of the WPK Central Committee since February 2015.

The DPRK state media spoke highly of the life of Kim Yang Gon, hailing him as a “loyal revolutionary warrior” of the DPRK’s late leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il and the “closest comrade-in-arms” of top leader Kim Jong Un.

[xinhuanet]

10 bizarre things that may or may not be true about North Korea

North Korea is the focus of many unproven facts, rumors and speculation, amongst them:

1. North Korea has the largest military in the world (including active, reserved and paramilitary) with 7.7 million servicemen and women. The US have an estimated 1.5 million active military personnel.
2. Marijuana in North Korea is not illegal and can be bought at markets
3. The world’s largest stadium is in North Korea’s capital, Pyongyang – it can seat 150,000.
4. North Korea bases its calendar on Kim Il Sung’s date of birth: 15 April 1912. So north of the 38th parallel, the year is 103, not 2015.
5. During the 1990s, all teachers were required to learn the accordion.
6. Due to a lack of fertilizer, North Korea was forced to use human feces as manure on crops.
7. According to his official biography, Kim Jong Il allegedly learned to walk aged 3 weeks.
8. North Korea has three television channels – two of which are only available on weekends, while the other can only be watched in the evening.
9. Elections take place every five years but there is only one option.
10. Blue denim jeans are illegal in North Korea as denim represents capitalist America.

 [The Independent]

North Korea expresses veiled annoyance with China

North Korea criticized a country, most likely China, for not coming to its aid when tensions escalated at the border in August.

Pyongyang’s state-controlled newspaper Rodong Sinmun stated in an editorial, “As the dark clouds of nuclear war appeared on the horizon of the fatherland, not one country came to our aid.” North Korea added “some relevant countries” remained neutral while asking Pyongyang to exercise calm and restraint in the face of “hostile forces,” Yonhap reported.

Last August, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying had said China urges both North and South Korea to exercise “calm and restraint” in the face of tensions at the Korean demilitarized zone that increased after land mine explosions injured two South Korean soldiers.

Chang Yong-seok, a senior researcher at the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies at Seoul National University, said the North was indirectly expressing its sentiments of dissatisfaction toward China.

This was the first statement of its kind to be released since the abrupt departure of North Korea’s all-female Moranbong Band from China before beginning its week-long “friendship” tour. A possible dispute between the band’s leader and Chinese government officials could have caused North Korea to issue the statement, South Korea press reported.

[UPI]

North Korea prisoners forced to work at nuclear test sites?

Detainees at North Korea’s largest political prison camp could be deployed at Punggye-ri nuclear test site, but more monitoring is needed, a U.S. analyst said.

North Korea defense expert Joseph Bermudez said in a report issued jointly by the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea in Washington, D.C., and AllSource Analysis, that closer scrutiny is needed to determine whether or not prisoners are being forced to work at North Korea’s nuclear test site.

The defense analyst said North Korea’s military capability has been diminishing, owing to “obsolescence of equipment, difficulty in training, and lowering of standards for soldiers following the overall decline in nutritional status of the population.”

[UPI]

Aunt of Kim Jong Un no longer appears on list of ruling North Korean elites

Kim Jong Un’s once powerful aunt is no longer included on a list of top Pyongyang officials, six months after speculation swirled the North Korean leader had ordered her execution.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry stated in an annually issued directory that Kim Kyong Hui‘s name was not on the list of cabinet members, the list of Workers’ Party secretaries or the Party’s Politburo. She was previously a top official: a chairwoman of the Politburo of the Workers’ Party, secretary of the Party’s Secretariat, a member of the Party’s Central Committee and a senior delegate of the 12th Supreme People’s Assembly. She also held positions in the military.

Kim, 69, is the wife of executed North Korean official Jang Song Thaek. In May, a high-level defector had said Kim Jong Un had had her poisoned, but sources in North Korea said she was alive and recovering from an alcoholism-related illness at Pyongyang’s Bonghwa Clinic.

Kim Kyong Hui also has been absent from public events since late 2013, when her husband Jang was executed on charges that included treason and corruption.

“It has been most likely confirmed that Kim Kyong Hui resigned from all official posts following Jang Song Thaek,” a South Korean government official said.

South Korea also stated in the report that Kim Jong Un is believed to have been born on Jan. 8, 1984. In previous statements, Seoul had said Kim’s date of birth ranged between 1982 and 1984.

[UPI]

News about imprisoned Canadian pastor Hyeon Soo Lim

Canadian diplomats were allowed to meet a Canadian pastor soon after he was sentenced to life in prison in North Korea last week and found him in good spirits and health, a church spokeswoman said on Sunday.

Hyeon Soo Lim, held by North Korea since February, was sentenced to hard labor for life for subversion on Wednesday, a ruling Canada called “unduly harsh.”

Lim, a Canadian citizen, had been doing humanitarian work in North Korea since 1997 and had visited the isolated country more than 100 times, according to his Toronto church, the 3,000-member Light Korean Presbyterian Church.

He cried when Canadian diplomats relayed his son’s message that “we’re all proud of you,” church spokeswoman Lisa Pak said.

Pak said after an emotional prayer meeting for Lim, which drew more than 1,000 churchgoers, that two consular officials from Canada’s embassy in Seoul and a translator met Lim on Friday. She also confirmed he had received medication for an unspecified health condition.

The church began a petition at the prayer meeting asking U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who is arranging a potential visit to North Korea, to seek Lim’s release.

[Reuters]

UN says China’s repatriation of North Korean defectors must end

The United Nations Committee Against Torture has called for an immediate end to the forced repatriation of North Korean defectors in China.

The U.N. body said it is most concerned China is classifying North Korean defectors as illegal economic migrants, because this then justifies repatriation to North Korea where persecution, torture, as well as long detentions await returnees.

“Defectors face torture, arbitrary detention, rape, forced labor,” said George Tugushi, the Committee’s vice chairman, adding North Korean women who are impregnated by Chinese men are forced to undergo abortions upon repatriation. The committee said more than 100 cases of systemic torture and ill treatment have been filed with the U.N., and added the repatriation of North Korean victims of human trafficking must end without delay.

In a separate statement, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees called for access to North Korean defectors in China, so as to determine their status as refugees. The U.N. Commission of Inquiry previously has said China has forcibly returned tens of thousands of North Korean nationals who were most likely subjected to punishment upon their return.

In November, 10 North Korean defectors were taken into Chinese custody after being sent back from Vietnam, where it is likely they were seeking asylum at a South Korean embassy.

China has not responded to past queries regarding its decision to repatriate defectors.

[UPI]

North Korea sentences Canadian pastor to life sentence

North Korea’s Supreme Court sentenced a Canadian pastor to life in prison with hard labor for what it called crimes against the state. Hyeon Soo Lim, who pastors the Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Toronto, was given the sentence after a 90-minute trial. He had been in detention since February.

Lim entered and left the court in handcuffs flanked by two public security officers in uniform. The handcuffs were removed in court during the trial. He kept his head bowed most of the time and answered questions in a subdued tone.

The crimes he was charged with included harming the dignity of the supreme leadership, trying to use religion to destroy the North Korean system, disseminating negative propaganda about the North to the overseas Koreans, and helping U.S. and the South Korean authorities lure and abduct North Korean citizens, along with aiding their programs to assist defectors from the North.

State prosecutors sought the death penalty. Lim’s lawyer asked the court to take into account the fact that Lim is a fellow Korean and that he had frankly confessed to everything the prosecution had brought up. Lim pleaded to be given a chance and said if the court gave him a chance he would not do anything bad again.

Lim’s relatives and colleagues have said he traveled on Jan. 31 as part of a regular humanitarian mission to North Korea where he supports a nursing home, a nursery and an orphanage. Lim, who is in his early 60s, has made more than 100 trips to North Korea since 1997.

North Korea has very strict rules against any missionary or religious activities that it sees as threatening the supremacy of its ruling regime. Merely leaving a Bible in a public place can lead to arrest and possibly severe punishment.

Former Kim bodyguard tells of beatings and starvation in North Korean prison camp

Dozens of purple scars crisscross Lee Young-guk’s lower legs, many the result of beatings endured while imprisoned in North Korea’s most notorious prison camp. Removing his dentures, Lee shows just five or six original teeth, wonky and cracked; the only ones has left after countless punches to the head. Being hit with the butt of a rifle, he says, left him blind in one eye.

Lee was the bodyguard to Kim Jong Il for more than 10 years, before the late North Korean leader assumed power in 1994. A once loyal servant of the regime, Lee says he left Kim’s employment without issues. He realized he was not a nice man, but only after he traveled out of North Korea, and saw how other parts of the world functioned, did it become clear to him that Kim was a dictator.

Lee tried to escape but was captured while trying to defect to South Korea and thrown into the infamously brutal Yodok political camp. “If you are a political prisoner, Yodok’s main goal is to kill you,” he says. He remembers when he first arrived seeing inmates who looked like walking skeletons.

“It was tough enough that they barely fed me,” he says. “What was worse was they kept on beating me, and they executed people once a week, which we were forced to watch. You have to be mentally strong, then the cycle repeats itself.”

In the five years between being arrested in China and his release for good behavior, Lee says he lost almost half his body weight. He says inmates were so weak from the lack of food, they were rarely able to life their heads unless ordered to do so by guards. If they were unable to complete their physical work for the day, Lee says they weren’t fed.

Lee speaks of the flower garden at Yodok, a euphemistic phrase used by defectors to describe mass graves at the camps. “Yodok’s flower garden has thousands, even tens of thousands of people in it. Lines and lines of dead bodies. I had to carry them, bodies with fluids still flowing out of them and bury them where the guards told us.”

Lee is adamant North Korean leaders must be held accountable from crimes committed against its own people.

[CNN]

China, Russia fail to derail UN meeting on North Korean dismal human rights

China, Russia, Venezuela and Angola failed on Thursday to stop the United Nations Security Council from holding its second meeting on human rights in North Korea, which has been accused by a U.N. inquiry of abuses comparable to Nazi-era atrocities.

China called a vote to stop the meeting, but lost nine to four. Nine votes are needed to win a procedural vote and the five permanent members – China, Russia, the United States, Britain and France – cannot use their vetoes.

The 15-member council added the situation in North Korea – including human rights – to its agenda and held its first meeting on the issue a year ago, despite objections at the time by China, a firm ally of North Korea, and Russia. Previously, the council’s discussion of North Korea was limited to its nuclear weapons program.

The 193-member U.N. General Assembly has urged the U.N. Security Council to consider referring North Korea to the International Criminal Court after a U.N. Commission of Inquiry detailed wide-ranging abuses in the impoverished Asian state. China is likely to veto such a move, diplomats said.

[Reuters]