A CNN crew led by Will Ripley met several North Koreans Pyongyang intent on defending their country’s tarnished human rights record. As is normal procedure, the team was given no advance notice about what or who they would be able to film before they arrived in the capital. On the first morning, they were led into the same meeting room at the Koryo Hotel, where most visiting foreigners stay.
In 2013, these youngsters had been caught on the Laos-China border as they attempted to head for South Korea. Returned to North Korea, the world feared for their safety at the hands of a state that is usually merciless when it comes to defectors they regard as traitors.
But instead of being punished, they told CNN they received special treatment, extra tuition to make up for three years of missed schooling while on the run, as well as places in the best educational establishments in the Pyongyang — poster children for the state’s “benevolence and forgiveness.”
While there was no way to confirm how they were chosen to speak, the highly secretive state seems keen to get its point of view across when it comes to its rights conduct — it vehemently rejected claims in a United Nations report that it “terrorizes” its own citizens.