The North Korean defector news network – Part 1

News about North Korea often originate from people in North Korea, through networks of defectors determined to get out information on the authoritarian, highly insular country they left behind.

Their words and images are snapped up with enthusiasm, and often credulously, by South Korean and international media desperate for news from the poorly understood country. The sources may not be particularly well informed: They could be ruling-party officials or factory workers. Or smugglers, professors or soldiers.

Generally, they are in it for the money, not a desire to force change in their homeland, according to the defectors they communicate with.

Whatever their motives, the risks they face are the same. Defectors say some of their sources are now dead because of their work.

In the months after the North’s December 2013 execution of Jang Song Thaek — an uncle of Kim Jong Un who had been widely regarded as the country’s No. 2 official — a defector’s organization reported on its website that another top official, Choe Ryong Hae, had been detained for unclear reasons. Those reports, cited by many news outlets, appeared doubtful days later when state TV aired photos of Choe accompanying Kim on an inspection trip.

Kim Seong-Min, a well-known defector who heads the organization involved, Free North Korea Radio, said he now believes Choe was least investigated, if not detained. There have been varying reports about Choe’s political fortunes, but on Friday, state media reported that he will travel to Russia as Kim Jong Un’s special envoy.

Kim Seong-Min is unperturbed as long as the information helps expose North Korean wrongdoing. And he has worked to help North Koreans bolster their reports by smuggling in illegal cellphones and camcorders for them.

[Excerpts from Associated Press article by writer Hyung-Jin Kim]

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