Defectors lift curtain on North Korea’s information blackout

The Kim regime has maintained its grip on North Korea by imprisoning its enemies and by controlling and censoring the mass media — newspapers, TV, radio, with only a privileged few getting access to the internet.

TV shows on state-run media tout the achievements of North Koreans and their leader. During the last few years, North Korean defectors based in in South Korea have been undermining the country’s information blackout.

One of those activists is Kang Chol-Hwan, a North Korean defector. Today, he’s the director of a non-profit called the North Korea Strategy Center based in Seoul, South Korea’s capital. Formed in 2007, his group pays Chinese smugglers to send USB drives filled with prohibited, outside media into North Korea. He says, even though North Koreans lack internet connections, they can watch smuggled movies and TV shows on their computers or on Chinese video players with USB ports, like these, called “Notels.”

KANG CHOL-HWAN: We send various content from stories on human rights, general information on South Korea, to images depicting the average American…. It helps them to realize that in the outside world, even the criminals have rights.

KARLA MURTHY: Your strategy of sending these USB sticks over there, how do you know that strategy is working?

KANG CHOL-HWAN: We regularly monitor the response through those who are able to move across the China-North Korea border more easily. If we find that a television drama that we sent has been banned, we know that it has been impactful.

KARLA MURTHY: Would have happened if you were caught listening to foreign broadcasts?

KANG CHOL-HWAN: You would have been branded as an anti-revolutionary. Then, you would be sent to an internment camp, but if you were repeatedly caught, you would be executed…

[Read transcript of full PBS interview]

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