Senior North Korean diplomat’s defection a ‘unique situation’

South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Jeong Joo-hee said on Wednesday North Korean diplomat Thae Yong Ho defected for the sake of his family and because he was “tired of Kim Jong Un’s regime.”

Liberty in North Korea (LINK) Director of Research and Strategy Sokeel Park said the defection of the senior North Korean diplomat  was a “unique situation,” and could lead to threats of retaliation from North Korea.

“There’s been those kind of things that have happened in the past for very high level defectors: assassination attempts, death threats … there will be protection from the South Korean authorities around this person, especially [in] the short term,” Park said.

Park said the defector Thae was the member of an elite family in North Korea, the son of a high-profile general. As with all high-profile defections, Park said the family still in North Korea could expect to face suspicion and possibly punishment in the future.

Park said it was unusual the diplomat had been with his entire immediate family overseas when he was posted. “That’s quite rare … a lot of the time there will be a son or an immediate family member that’s still back in North Korea kind of as collateral to make it harder for people to defect,” he said.

When asked why Thae may have defected to South Korea, rather than the United Kingdom where he was posted, Park said he may have been offered more incentives. “Maybe he would have better career prospects, for instance, if he came to South Korea, worked with the national intelligence service … rather than staying in the United Kingdom,” he said.

[CNN]

10 months of North Korean torture and then transferred to prison camp

Jung Gwang Il is sitting in a comfortable hotel room in Seoul, South Korea, recalling the hell he endured when he still lived in North Korea.

He describes something that resembles waterboarding and being shocked repeatedly with live wires. Worse, he says, was “pigeon torture,” where his hands were bound behind his back and fastened to a wall at a height that made squatting or standing impossible. He was forced to lean forward, twisting in agony for days, his chest puffed like a pigeon’s breast. “It was so awful because they could just leave me there for a week, and I’d be tortured without them having to do anything,” he says. “That’s how evil they are.”

Jung ended 10 months of torture by confessing to spying — a crime he hadn’t committed — and was sent to a prison camp where he slept in barracks with 600 other men. The slave labor and lack of food took a toll: He arrived weighing 167 pounds and left three years later at 79 pounds, his teeth bashed into stubs.

Now a defector living in South Korea — with a new set of teeth — Jung, 51, is determined to inflict maximum damage on the regime of supreme leader Kim Jong Un to the north. His primary weapon is not military arms but rather the Western media he smuggles into his former country, designed to embarrass the regime and expose the lies told by its propagandists and believed by its subjects. Educational material and entertainment both are popular within North Korea’s black market, but the latter is more effective because it is more difficult to demonize as propaganda.

[Hollywood Reporter]

Yeon-mi Park the tiny woman facing the wrath of North Korea Part 1

What does a nuclear power with the fifth largest army in the world have to fear from a pint-sized university student in a pink frock? A great deal, apparently.

On 31 January 2015, a North Korean government-run website posted an 18-minute video titled The Human Rights Propaganda Puppet, Yeon-mi Park, which denounced the charismatic 21-year-old North Korean defector. It was the latest attack in a smear campaign aimed at silencing Yeon-mi, a human rights activist and outspoken critic of the world’s most repressive and secretive regime.

Last fall, Yeon-mi took the podium at the One Young World Summit in Dublin, and became a YouTube sensation. Looking like a fragile porcelain doll dressed in a flowing pink hanbok (traditional Korean dress), Yeon-mi told a harrowing and heartbreaking story: “North Korea is an unimaginable country,” she began in halting English. … When she was nine years old she saw her friend’s mother publicly executed for a minor infraction.

When she was 13, she fled into China, only to see her mother raped by a human trafficker. Her father later died in China, where she buried his ashes in secret. “I couldn’t even cry,” she said. “I was afraid to be sent back to North Korea.”

Eventually Yeon-mi and her mother escaped into Mongolia by walking and crawling across the frozen Gobi desert.

By the time Yeon-mi had finished with a plea to “shed light on the darkest place in the world”, the whole audience was in tears and on its feet. Yeon-mi became the human face of North Korea’s oppressed.

Attacks on prominent North Korean defectors are nothing new. These individuals regularly endure charges that they lie and exaggerate. Occasionally there are death threats. But the regime’s most common weapon against its critics is character assassination.

Read more about Yeon-mi Park 

Yeon-mi Park the tiny woman facing the wrath of North Korea Part 2

As Yeon-mi’s “collaborator” – a publishing term for a writer who helps an author find her voice and turn her story into a narrative – I was immediately taken with the power of Yeon-mi’s testimony, as well as the warmth of her personality and her playful sense of humor. It was hard to fathom how this vibrant young woman could have suffered such an ordeal.

As soon as we began working together, I noticed there were some minor discrepancies in the articles written about Yeon-mi, a jumbling of dates and places and some inconsistent details about her family’s escape. Most of these issues could be explained by a language barrier – Yeon-mi was giving interviews in English before she was fully fluent. But Yeon-mi was also protecting a secret, something she had tried to bury and forget from the moment she arrived in South Korea at age 15: like tens of thousands of other refugees, Yeon-mi had been trafficked in China. In South Korea – and many other societies – admitting to such a “shameful” past would destroy her prospects for marriage and any sort of normal life.

She had hoped that by changing a few details about her escape she could avoid revealing the full story. But after she decided to plunge into human rights activism, she realized that without the whole truth, the story of her life would have no real power or meaning. She has apologized for any discrepancies in her public record, and is determined that her book be scrupulously accurate.

With Yeon-mi’s cooperation, I have been able to verify her story through family members and fellow defectors who knew her in North Korea and China. Sometimes Yeon-mi had forgotten or blocked out graphic details from her childhood, only to have the memories return in all their horror as we reviewed her recollections with other witnesses. It seemed that she wasn’t just remembering these things, but actually reliving them.

Dr Judith Herman, clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard tells me: “Traumatized people don’t give you a perfect, complete narrative on the first go-round. You see this all the time with refugees seeking asylum. That doesn’t mean their story isn’t credible, because the gist of their story is consistent.”

[Journalist Maryanne Vollers, writing in The Guardian]

North Korean dissidents seek Silicon Valley’s help

In this age of smartphones and the Internet, it’s hard to believe that the best ways to send pro-democracy messages into North Korea involve dropping paper leaflets from weather balloons and smuggling DVDs and flash drives across the Chinese border.

But two North Koreans who were able to escape from a nation where the Internet is outlawed now hope to hone their methods with the help of Silicon Valley companies and tech professionals.

“The problems they have are a five-finger exercise for a lot of the engineers we meet here,” said Alex Gladstein of the New York-based Human Rights Foundation, who helped arrange the visit of the North Korean dissidents. “Each parcel of truth that makes it in is another crack in the totalitarian wall.”

The Northern California trip with dissidents Park Sang Hak, who launches the weather balloons, and Kang Chol-Hwan, who smuggles in the DVDs, comes just days after the United Nations condemned the North Korean regime led by Kim Jong Un. A nearly 400-page report details prison-camp atrocities such as starvation, torture, forced abortions, murder, rape and “other grave sexual violence.”

Change to North Korea must come from within, the dissidents told a crowd.  “The ultimate goal is to make North Koreans enraged about their leadership, make them rise up by themselves and cooperate with each other so they can change internally,” said Park, who won the Vaclav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent and is president of the Fighters for Free North Korea Association, based in Seoul, South Korea’s capital. “It definitely needs to be from the bottom up.”

[Contra Costa Times]

Jeong Kwang Il, North Korean defector

The U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea was established in March by the U.N. Human Rights Council to investigate “systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights in North Korea.”

More than 40 witnesses — some of them newly arrived from North Korea — recently testified before representatives from the U.N. inquiry commission in Seoul, and they detailed horrific abuse at the hands of their captors.

One of those who testified was Jeong Kwang Il, a North Korean defector once worked for a North Korean trading company that he said dealt with China and South Korea.That ended abruptly in 1999, when he was arrested by government security agents, he said. “These people were beating me with clubs, and they said I should confess that I am a spy. But I told them. ‘I’m not a spy.’ But they kept beating me — for two weeks.”

After undergoing “pigeon torture,” in which he was hung upside down with his hands cuffed behind his back, he confessed to what he told the commission he had never done. “I could not endure this any more so I confessed that I was given a spy’s job from South Korea,” he said. “I had given up.”

Jeong said he was then taken to a political camp, where he spent three years before he was released to discover that his home was no longer where it had been, and he could not find his family.

“I felt betrayed,” he said. “I decided that I was done in North Korea.”

After a year-long escape route that took him through China, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand, Jeong arrived in South Korea in 2004, where he has started a new life, but not forgotten the old one.

“Even if they give me a lot of money, I will not go back to that country,” he vowed.

CNN  

The impact of information on North Koreans

North Koreans are indeed getting more information than ever before. Computers, television, DVDs, MP3 players and USB drives have found their way into North Korean hands. While domestic televisions must be fixed to official channels, North Koreans are increasingly gaining access to television sets that are capable of showing foreign broadcasts. Others modify their televisions to dodge state controls.

Modifying television sets is not a new phenomenon. In Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea, Barbara Demick describes how in the 1990s a young North Korean named Jun-sang bought a Sony television that had been fixed to government stations and had its tuners disabled by a North Korean version of “crippleware,” ensuring that televisions wouldn’t receive foreign broadcasts. He registered the set with the Electric Wave Inspection Bureau, which put a paper seal over the television’s buttons to certify it had been preset on the politically correct station. Television inspectors would show up unexpectedly to make sure nobody tampered with the sets.

Jun-sang, eager for news from outside North Korea, used a sewing needle to push the buttons without damaging the seal and also constructed his own antenna. Then, when everyone was asleep, he listened to South Korean television.

What he learned turned his world upside down.

He heard that the United States was supplying thousands of tons of rice in humanitarian aid. A U.S. congressional delegation said in a news conference that 2 million had died of starvation in North Korea. And for the first time Jun-sang heard the actual voice of his own leader, Kim Jong-il, whose words were usually read by reverent North Korean radio announcers. Kim’s voice was tinny, old, and utterly devoid of mystique. “Listening to South Korean television was like looking in the mirror for the first time in your life and realizing you were unattractive,” Demick wrote. In Jun-sang’s case, these realizations contributed to his crisis of faith in the regime and his ultimate decision to defect.

Examples like these illustrate how even the most basic access to information could be devastating to the North Korean regime.

[Slate]

 

China arrests traffickers of North Korean women

Chosun Ilbo reports Chinese police have busted a human trafficking ring that lured North Korean women into defecting and indentured labor or prostitution.

Chinese media reports said police in Yanji, Jilin Province, which is home to a large population of ethnic Koreans, arrested four foreigners and one Chinese. Police found 12 North Korean women who had been sold to Heilongjiang Province and other parts of China and sent them back to the North. North Korean sources said that would mean sending them to torture or death and accused Beijing of violating humanitarian principles.

One woman identified only by her surname Choe (25) was arrested along with a Chinese national also identified only by his family name Shi, reports said.

Choe said she crossed the border into China in 2007 at the age of 19 after finishing high school in order to make money for her family. But instead of finding a job in China, she was sold to a mentally disabled man in Heilongjiang Province. She realized she was a victim of human trafficking, but her inability to communicate in Chinese made it impossible for her to escape. A few months later, she was sold to another Chinese man and had his child.

Choe met Shi early last year after he was released from prison after serving time for human trafficking, and helped him recruit other North Koreans for their human trafficking ring, Chinese police said. They lured 20 North Korean women between in their 20s to 40s to China. The gang were paid 10,000-15,000 yuan per woman, and accomplices in North Korea 3,000-5,000 yuan.

A source in China said, “I think Chinese police announced the arrest because they want to back claims that North Korean defectors are not refugees but victims of crime, or illegal aliens.”

Thousands of North Korean cameras on Chinese border

With more and more defectors heading south, Kim Jong-un’s North Korean regime spent $1.66 million on over 16,000 border-security cameras in the first 11 months of 2012, the South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo reports, as he continues to build a spy network on his own citizens. And that’s not good news for anyone under the watching eyes of the Supreme Leader who’s trying to seek refuge amidst, you know, democracy. The data, according to Chosun Ilbo, is based on Chinese customs data:

“[North Korea] imported a total of 16,420 CCTV cameras worth about US$1.66 million from China from January to November last year.

“In 2009, the first year China published statistics on bilateral trade, the North imported a whopping 40,465 surveillance cameras from China. In 2010 the figure was 22,987 and in 2011 22,118. Altogether the North has imported over 100,000 cameras worth about $10 million.”

That’s a lot of surveillance equipment for such a small country: North Korea’s addition of 100,000 closed-circuit TV cameras over three years is a gain of about one for every 244 citizens, compared to the approximately 1.85 million in all of Britain — or one for every 33 of its population. London, which has upwards of a third of those British spycams, is of course more densely packed than Pyonyang.

But Kim Jong-un isn’t focusing on the cities — he’s looking for runaways. As analysts tell Chosun Ilbo from South Korea, “cameras are being positioned at key points along the long border the two nations share in order to detect and capture would-be defectors from the North.” As The Telegraph‘s Julian Ryall explains, it’s part of a larger push to keep North Korean citizens from crossing the border:

“Kim Jong-un has carried out a crackdown on people hoping to escape their repressive homeland, as well as anyone using a mobile phone to communicate across the border and smugglers bringing in banned newspapers, books and recordings of television programmes that show the lives of people in prosperous South Korea.”

And the North Korean regime’s efforts seem to be working, with the number of defectors coming out of the country dropping sharply over the past three years, just as the camera trade has ramped up. “Just over 1,500 North Koreans arrived in the South in 2012 compared to more than 2,700 the previous year, according to the South’s Unification Ministry,” reported the BBC, which notes that the figure is a seven-year low. “Most North Korean refugees escape across the border with China and then make their way to South Korea via third countries.”

[Repost from The Atlantic]

 

 

North Korean refugee documentary nominated

A documentary about the plight of North Korean refugees has been nominated for the documentary category of the 40th International Emmy Awards.

Titled “Across Land, Across Sea” in English, the documentary was nominated along with works from the U.K., Germany and Argentina. The documentary has three 52-minute episodes:

  • “Across Land, Across Sea,” which tracks a successful escape from North Korea and China to South Korea in December 2009 by Song Sung-kook and his family helped by Pastor Kim Sung-eun;
  • “Seeking Haven,” which depicts the desperate attempts of a North Korean refugee to bring her family in the North to the South and her difficult adjustment to South Korean society; and
  • “Crossing Three Borders,” a story of North Korean refugees who stormed into the Danish Embassy in Vietnam in pursuit of freedom.

The International Emmy Awards are presented to the best TV programs produced and originally aired outside the U.S. and are considered to be among the world’s top three broadcast awards along with Canada’s Banff World Media Festival and Monaco’s Monte Carlo Television Festival. The award ceremony takes place in New York on October 19.