The beautification campaign of Kim Jong-Un

“I had experience in … six prison camps in China and North Korea,” said Joo Seong-ha, who escaped North Korea in 1998 after facing prosecution. A friend with powerful connections to the regime was able to get him out of detention — a chance for an escape to China. He immigrated to South Korea in 2002 and now works as a journalist in Seoul.

Joo Seong-ha says he has hope for President Trump’s efforts but warns America’s strategy needs to change. “The U.S. does not understand North Korea,” he said.

Fellow defector Hyun Inae hopes for more dialogue that will lead to results but says it will be difficult to achieve unification. “We had high hopes for the summit, but actually it was a little bit disappointing,” she said— explaining that she wished more progress would’ve have happened in the weeks following the summit in Singapore.

Hyun Inae says it’s important to not forget the brutality of the Kim regime especially amid what is being described as a media beautification campaign of the dictator. “I think the South Korean government is shying away from the human rights issue because it doesn’t want to get on bad terms with North Korean regime, so North Korean defectors are all worried about that,” she said.

The beautification campaign — as it’s called — is on display in both print and broadcast journalism in South Korea. It seems many South Koreans are willing to temporarily turn a blind eye on the evils of the Kim regime as a means to eventually achieve better relations.

[Fox]

Christians incarcerated in concentration camps in North Korea due to their faith

Religion is cracked down on in North Korea, with citizens encouraged to treat the ruling Kim dynasty as demigods. North Korea persecutes Christians, regarding believers as hostile elements that need to be eradicated, according to Open Doors, an organization that supports persecuted Christians.

Some 70,000 Christians are incarcerated in concentration camps in North Korea with many coming to an untimely death in squalid conditions, Open Doors has revealed.

When Christian Hea Woo, whose name has been changed for her safety, was forced into a camp there was a sign that warned ‘Do not try to escape, you shall be killed’. Speaking about the way she was treated at the camp, Ms Woo told Open Doors: “The guards were merciless. They kicked me and beat me with sticks. Christians are sometimes killed or locked up for the rest of their lives in concentration camps.”

And the threat of death always lurked. Ms Woo said: “Constantly there were people dying. Death was a part of our daily life. The bodies were usually burned and the guards scattered the ashes on the path. Every day, we walked down that path and I always thought, one day the other prisoners will be walking over me.”

But despite the threats faced at the camp Ms Woo was not deterred form practicing her faith. Using the toilet as a church, Ms Woo held short services for five other people, which included teaching the Bible verses and singing songs of praise.

Ms Woo was eventually released from the camp and now lives in South Korea.

{Express – UK]

North and South Korean leaders to meet in Pyongyang in September

The leaders of North and South Korea will hold a summit in Pyongyang in September, both countries announced Monday.

It will be the third in-person meeting between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The two first met in April, pledging to forge closer relations and work to formally end the Korean War in an agreement called the Panmunjom Declaration. They then held an impromptu meeting in May at the demilitarized zone that divides the two Koreas.

When he does go, Moon will be the third South Korean president to travel to the North Korean capital, and the first in more than a decade. South Korean President Kim Dae-jung met Kim Jong Un’s father and predecessor, Kim Jong Il, in Pyongyang in 2000 for the first inter-Korean summit. Former South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun also met Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang in 2007.

[CNN]

In rare move, North Korea releases detained South Korean

North Korea released a South Korean citizen on Tuesday who was detained in the North last month, a rare humanitarian gesture welcomed by the South Korean government. The 34-year-old man, who was identified only by his last name, Seo, was arrested in North Korea for illegal entry on July 22.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry released no further details, citing a pending investigation. The man will probably face criminal charges in South Korea because of a national law that bars citizens from visiting the North without government permission.

Tuesday’s repatriation came as the North is mounting pressure on South Korea to return those citizens it says are being held in the South against their will. Two North Koreans, Kim Ryen-hi and Kwon Chol-nam, are campaigning for their repatriation to the North, saying that their decisions to defect were mistakes.

North Korea is also demanding the return of 12 waitresses who arrived in South Korea in 2016 in a group defection.

[New York Times]

1 in 10 North Koreans are forced into modern day slavery

One in every 10 people living in North Korea are forced into forms of slavery, used to prop up the repressive regime and keep the country’s population under tight control, according to a new report, The 2018 Global Slavery Index, compiled by the Walk Free Foundation.

According to the report, more than 2.6 million out of North Korea’s 25 million inhabitants are subjected to modern slavery, the highest proportion of a single country’s population worldwide. Most were forced to work with no guarantee of compensation.

The Walk Free Foundation is an Australia-based organization dedicated to monitoring and ending various forms of slavery worldwide and spurring global action to that effect. It was founded by the billionaire Australian mining mogul Andrew Forrest.

The regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un uses several different methods to impose slavery on its people. From interviews with 50 North Korean defectors, all described work in North Korea as centrally organized by the ruling party, and many indicated they had either not been paid, or their pay was subjected to state-held deductions. Read more

More on North Koreans forced into modern day slavery

North Korean interviewees reported that children and adults were forced to work unpaid through “communal labor” in agriculture or construction. Adults were sometimes forced to work 70 to 100 days in a row and faced punishment or decreased food rations if they disobeyed orders.

Defectors also described labor training camps — essentially state-run prisons — where citizens who were unemployed for more than 15 days were sent to perform hard labor, usually for a minimum of six months.

Even absence from work is not permitted and could result in harsh punishment. “If you are absent without an excuse, you are detained in a labor training camp,” a male defector said, according to the report.

Two defectors spoke of “shock brigades” also known as “storm troopers” — groups of typically very poor men and women who were forced to perform heavy labor, often in construction, for years at a time.

One female defector said her monthly work salary was used to fund forced labor. “I did not receive compensation,” she said. “From my workplace, they were taking money to support shock brigades and as a result of deducting such an amount from our salaries we did not receive any money.”

[Business Insider]

Defector says Jang Song Thaek a tyrant who wrecked North Korea’s economy

According to a defector who once claimed membership in the Korean Workers’ Party, and served in the North Korean air force before he resettled in the South, important features of Pyongyang’s planned economy are gravely misunderstood as are incidents like the execution of Kim Jong Un’s uncle-in-law Jang Song Thaek.

The defector, identified only as Kim, said drastic actions from powerful members of the North Korean regime, including Jang, were responsible for the shutdown of North Korean industry when millions starved.

When North Korea publicly disclosed the execution of Kim Jong Un’s uncle-in-law in 2013, the news sent shock waves around the world. North Koreans may also have been surprised, but not shocked, when Jang was sentenced to death by his nephew.

But according to defector Kim, Jang was a “bad person” who enriched himself during North Korea’s notorious 1994-98 Great Famine, when idle machines in factories were torn apart and sold. Jang was responsible for selling North Korean coal to China, even though the energy source was needed domestically.

Jang, who secretly controlled the levers of power in the North for decades, also ordered the rounding up of citizens with spinal disorders that cause dwarfism, Kim said. The victims were sent to concentration camps because Jang believed their presence in society was “bad for socialism.” The men and women were “secretly kidnapped,” and families would find them unexpectedly missing when they returned home.

North Korea’s economy may also baffle outsiders. Profits are the least of economic priorities in North Korea, the defector said, where a pair of shoes that costs 60 cents to produce would be supplied to the population at 3 cents. The notion of an economy that benefits people in this way also means Kim Jong Un is not the kind of dictator outsiders have assumed him to be.

[UPI]

The rise of North Korean smartphones

2018 marks the tenth year that cellphones have been legally available in North Korea, but overall use remains low: according to the country’s state-run Sogwang outlet in January, more than 3.5 million – out of a population of 25 million – have mobile subscriptions.

Some experts believe that the number of mobile subscription has increased closer to 5 million, with approximately 40% of the population using smartphones.

North Korean mobile users cannot access the worldwide internet: use is limited to the country’s state-run intranet. Since the majority of smartphone users do not have access to the internet, according to one expert, users have to go to a technology service center where technicians install apps to their cell phone.

State media suggests that North Koreans are playing games, reading books, listening to music, doing karaoke, learning to cook, and even increasing crop output on smartphones. One of the most popular apps is “My Companion,” which can be described as a combination of Netflix and an ebook reader.

Choi Sung Jin, who defected from the DPRK in 2017, from Hoeryong – in the country’s north-west – said that he mainly used his smartphone to play games.

But some North Koreans are also using their phones for business: checking currency rates and transferring money, reported South Korea’s MTN in June. An app makes it possible for users to transfer money to other mobile users: users purchase a gift card, add funds, then register the card to the app to send the money through the receiver’s phone number. Amazon-style e-commerce is another rising smartphone feature in North Korea.

Despite all the progress, however, North Korea still lags years behind its southern neighbor, which leads the world in smartphone ownership (94 percent). North Korean phones do not come cheap: costing as high as $800, a huge price in a country with a GDP per capita of $1800.

[NKNews]

Remains of Americans who died in the Korean War returned by North Korea

A U.S. Air Force plane carrying what are thought to be the remains of 55 Americans killed during the Korean War arrived at Osan Air Base in South Korea on Friday morning, the 65th anniversary of the armistice that ended the fighting.

The exchange means that one part of the agreement reached between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore on June 12 has been partially fulfilled — albeit more slowly than many had anticipated.

Trump said: “I want to thank Chairman Kim for keeping his word. We have many others coming. But I want to thank Chairman Kim in front of the media for fulfilling a promise that he made to me, and I’m sure that he will continue to fulfill that promise as they search and search and search.”

Earlier, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement: “Today’s actions represent a significant first step to recommence the repatriation of remains from North Korea and to resume field operations in North Korea to search for the estimated 5,300 Americans who have not yet returned home.”

The return of the remains now would come after commercial satellite imagery appeared to show that North Korea had destroyed part of a satellite-testing facility that was part of the country’s missile-development program. Trump, who told reporters in June that North Korea had agreed to destroy that facility, said Tuesday that the United States appreciated the move.

[The Washington Post]

A ‘life of hell’ for Christians in North Korea

North Korea is ranked the most oppressive place for Christians in the world and has had that ignominious status for years, according to Open Doors USA.

Choi Kwanghyuk is one of the lucky ones. The 55-year-old managed to escape from the work camp where he was sent after being targeted and persecuted for his Christian faith by the North Korean government.

While hiding his faith in plain sight while living in North Hamgyong province, Choi still felt compelled to bring religion to others when he started an underground church.

In 2008, North Korean authorities caught up to Choi and arrested him. He was held in prison by the state security department where he says he was interrogated about his faith. “I was tortured there,” he said.

“Choi’s statements describing oppression, as well as his report of imprisonment for owning a Bible or practicing faith, align with everything we know about North Korea,” Open Doors President David Curry told Fox News.

“Rated the worst place for the persecution of Christians, North Korea treats Christians horrendously and registers them as ‘enemies of the state’ for their faith.”

[Fox News]