Monthly Archives: May 2016

North Korea documentary “Cash for Kim”

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North Korean laborers are literally being worked to death in shocking conditions with money flowing directly into the hands of the North Korean government.

A documentary by filmmakers Sebastian Weis and Manuel Freundt presents shocking evidence that goes right to the heart of the European Union with their footage revealing the harrowing conditions the laborers from North Korea work under.

The documentary, Cash for Kim, shows who is benefiting from the working conditions while giving an insight into how the North Korean workers are treated, with many kept under watch and fearful of reporting their conditions. The footage shows workers employed in several locations across Poland. Weir and Freundt question if the workers are in Poland due to a bureaucratic system error, or rather an economic policy that turns a blind eye to the issue.

More alarmingly the Cash for Kim documentary sheds light on the possibility that one Polish company is even being run by a high-ranking member of the North Korean military.

North Korean workers are employed in mining, logging, textile and construction and working in countries including China, Russia, the UAE, Cambodia and Poland.


The Kim family of North Korea as deities

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Many North Koreans call Kim Jong-un “The Marshal” and express towards him, as for his father and grandfather, the emotions usually reserved for a deity. For me, this worship has been a source of minor embarrassment, especially their custom to bow to the images or photos of the leaders.

This is shocking for us, but not unusual in Asia. Before 1945, the neighboring Japanese, people of great culture and refinement, worshiped their Emperor as the Supreme Deity, and even now some of them continue to venerate him as a Shinto god. The Japanese ruled over Korea for 40 years, and during that time, they implanted some ideas, notably that of a Divine Ruler.

Politically, North Korea has little to do with Marxism, or with Socialism.

In fact, it is a deeply religious society based on worship of the three Kims.

If asked, the N Koreans say their rulers have been “sent by Heaven”. They ascribe every good thing in their life to their Heaven-sent rulers. They tell of miracles they performed. A modern-looking lady in Pyongyang has told me she saw an apparition of Kim II in the sky on the night of his demise. I saw people weep when death of Kim Jong-il is mentioned – and that some five years after the event.

[The Unz Review ]

Insights on Kim Jong Un as provided by his aunt

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Ko Yong Suk, the aunt of Kim Jong Un who has been secretly living in the US, says Kim Jong Un was born in 1984, the same year her first son was born.

“He and my son were playmates from birth. I changed both of their diapers,” Ko said.

While Kim Jong Un attended school in Switzerland, Ko helped take care of the future dictator, describing him as a “short-tempered” intolerant child.

Kim, who was shorter than his friends, was obsessed with basketball and his mother told him he would grow taller if he became a player. “He used to sleep… with his basketball,” Ko said.

But as Kim grew older, he was groomed into a successor for his father. At his eighth birthday party, attended by North Korea’s top brass, Kim reportedly received a general’s uniform adorned with stars and real generals bowed to him.

“It was impossible for him to grow up as a normal person when the people around him were treating him like that,” Ko said.

 [Washington Post]

Aunt of Kim Jong Un living a secret life in the US

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The aunt of Kim Jong Un, who has been living a secret life in the U.S. after defecting from the regime 18 years ago, is speaking out for the first time.

Ko Yong Suk, and her husband Ri Gang, fled North Korea in 1998, fearing they would lose their privileged status, when Ko’s sister –the mother of Kim Jong Un – became sick with terminal breast cancer.

“My friends here tell me I’m so lucky, that I have everything,” Ko Yong Suk, as she was known in North Korea, told The Washington Post. “My kids went to great schools and they’re successful, and I have my husband, who can fix anything. There’s nothing we can envy.” Her husband Ri Gang adds, “I think we have achieved the American Dream.”

The couple’s new names and home state were kept hidden to protect their three children. The Post reported the couple lived several hours away from New York City.

The 60-year-old, who runs a dry-cleaning business with her husband also acts as an informant on North Korea to the CIA, the newspaper adds. The couple claimed CIA operatives sometimes would arrive in their town to show them photos of North Koreans and ask who they were. The CIA declined to comment.

Ri Gang now says he wants to visit Pyongyang again to help ease the tensions between the U.S. and North Korea. “My ultimate goal is to go back to North Korea. I understand America and I understand North Korea, so I think I can be a negotiator between the two,” he said.

“If Kim Jong Un is how I remembered he used to be, I would be able to meet him and talk to him.”

Activist use drones to deliver information into North Korea

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Stealthy drones have been delivering SD cards and flash drives to North Korean residents hungry for entertainment and information from the outside, a North Korean defector and activist says.

Jung Gwang-il, founder of the group No Chain, said the drones have been delivering the contraband since early 2015. The SD cards and USB flash drives contain Western and South Korean films, TV shows, music and internet-free access to Wikipedia — media that will help get outside information to North Koreans, who are kept behind an invisible wall that cuts them off from outside influence.

It’s the first time a North Korean activist group acknowledged that it had been secretly using them to make deliveries to North Korea. Holding up a USB flash drive, Jung said, “I believe this has power to bring freedom to my country.”

No Chain and the Human Rights Foundation have quietly delivered more than 1,000 SD cards and flash drives to the communist country via hexacopter drones, they said.

The groups chose to send media because of its power to show outside life to North Koreans, said Human Rights Foundation President Thor Halvorssen. “The regime is trying to stop soap operas, Hollywood films, and things like K-pop. … They’re certainly quite fearful of something as simple as cartoons and TV programs. This challenges their iron grip of the North Korean people,” he said.      Read more

Drones gaining ground as choice delivery system into North Korea

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For decades, efforts to bring outside information or entertainment into North Korea have been decidedly low tech.

Radio programs made for North Koreans can get their frequencies jammed. Balloons carrying pamphlets, SD cards and USB flash drives have been released in hopes that the wind would carry them over into North Korea. Sometimes, the balloons drift off course into the sea or back into South Korea. Traders and activists have hired smugglers to carry goods such as Chinese cell phones, media and other goods over the North Korean border. But relying on a network of people in the secretive state is risky and dangerous to the individuals involved.

However, drones can follow a specified route and drop off their payloads in a specific area. Human Rights Foundation President Thor Halvorssen said his organization is able to load several pounds of SD cards and flash drives on one drone.

After months of testing in secrecy, Jung Gwang-il, founder of the group No Chain, and Halvorssen decided to make their activities public in order to “encourage other civil society organizations to take advantage of new technologies. … With more and more other actors, it could have a big impact in increasing quantity of info getting in,” Halvorssen said.


North Korean slave laborers in the heart of the European Union

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North Korean forced laborers, in the heart of the European Union? It sounds impossible to believe.

But a VICE investigation has found extensive evidence of North Koreans working in conditions of forced labor in Poland, with their wages funding the DPRK regime. VICE gained access to confidential documents such as service contracts, payment records, registers of persons, passport copies, and excerpts from a population register smuggled out of North Korea, the latter indicating a Polish company may be being run by a high-ranking member of the North Korean military.

The investigation was sparked by the death of a North Korean working as a welder at a major shipyard in the Gdansk region. He suffered 95 percent burns in an accident that was only possible because of inadequate working equipment and unsafe practices, the yard’s responsible work inspector Tomasz Rutkowski told us.

A document seen by VICE revealed that Polish National Labor Inspectorate (PIP) found 14 different Polish companies using North Korean workers between 2010 and 2016. The investigation focused on Rungrado and three Polish companies, two of which we discovered supply North Korean workers to two major shipyards which build and repair ships for clients across the European Union (EU).

PIP’s documents show that North Koreans were also found working in industries such as surface construction, furniture production, agriculture, metalworking, medicine, and finance.

A company known as the Korea Rungrado General Trading Corporation, which is directly owned by Kim’s Workers’ Party and has been implicated in the illicit shipment of Scud missile parts to Egypt, was also named in the document.

Read more

Firsthand account of working conditions of North Koreans in Poland

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Conversations [that VICE investigators] managed to have with North Korean shipyard workers in Poland revealed they frequently work 11 to 12 hours a day, five days a week, with shorter seven hour shifts on Saturdays. [They] also observed workers being brought to a construction site in Warsaw on a bus at 5.52am and picked up after 7pm, then taken to living quarters inside a heavily guarded compound in an isolated rural area.

“We don’t receive the money personally in our hands,” said one. He was unable to tell us how much he earned per hour or per month. “We let the company look after it. When I return to [North] Korea I’ll get the money. If we carried cash, there’s a chance that we could lose it. Anyway we don’t need any money on the way to and from work. We leave it to the company, that’s safest.”

At their living quarters, four to five workers share a room with one bed each, another North Korean told us. As they are also required to work night shifts, there are usually two to three persons sleeping in the room at any time, he said.

We asked another if he was able to talk to Polish co-workers. “We simply don’t have time. We go to work and then we go back home. That’s all we do,” he said.

When asked if it was true that workers were not allowed to keep wages, and their employer kept a large proportion, he said: “Unfortunately I cannot answer that question.”

According to the European Alliance for Human Rights in North Korea, workers abroad are deprived of the majority of their wages, which are paid in foreign currency direct to the DPRK, serving as a method of bypassing UN sanctions. “Laborers are rarely allowed to leave work sites or to come into contact with locals throughout their periods of forced labor.

Access to media is denied, communication with family members in North Korea is limited, and ideological indoctrination lessons are more pervasive than those conducted in the DPRK,” it said in a report published last September which was based on interviews with defectors.              Read more

50 thousand North Koreans work abroad earning foreign currency for Kim regime

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The UN estimated in a report last year there are about 50,000 North Koreans abroad, earning the Kim regime $1.2billion to $2.3bn per year. The workers are paid very little, with their employers paying “significantly higher amounts” directly to the North Korean government, said special UN rapporteur Marzuki Darusman.

Remco Breuker, a professor of Korean Studies at Holland’s Leiden University who chairs a working group of experts to research North Korean forced laborers in the EU, puts the situation bluntly: “In my view, North Korea is the world’s largest illegal job agency. They send people where they’re needed to whoever wants to pay.”

Breuker is clear the North Koreans are working under duress. “It’s definitely forced labor as far as I can tell. Whether these people can be considered slaves, that’s a difficult question to answer — I would probably say they come very close to being slaves,” he said. “You can’t really speak of voluntary labor.”

Research indicates workers are mostly from Pyongyang, and must be loyal to the regime, and married — allowing the threat of consequences for family members to act as leverage to ensure good behavior. They are allowed a 40-day vacation back home after two years work, after which they work abroad for another three years. One worker VICE spoke to said he had been in Poland for five years.

A spokesperson from Poland’s immigration authority told VICE that asylum was granted to a North Korean who fled while working in Poland in 2015, but provided no further details.

Kim Seung-cheol escaped during a work assignment in Russia in 1999, though sources who spoke to VICE upon condition of anonymity claimed no more than 50 out of every 50,000 North Koreans who work abroad successfully flee. According to Kim, the secret police visit the families of disobedient workers and he told VICE that his son and mother were deported and then died shortly after he fled his employment. “My whole family was destroyed,” he said.

[Read full VICE News article] 

Young North Korean Defector remembers chasing after flyer balloons

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Kim Kyoung-ok still remembers chasing after the flyer balloons, alien care packages raining from the sky, filled with Korean noodles and letters from children like her. She did not know yet that there could be a better life than the one she was born to in North Korea.

But as the years passed, her mother, Kim Tae-hee, had experienced a comparatively better quality of life in China where she was one of the approximately 50,000-60,000 North Koreans permitted to work abroad—an opportunity granted to citizens considered loyal to the regime.

Kyoung-ok was only 12 when her mother decided to make a dream of a better life a reality, fleeing with her youngest daughter to China. Now 21, Kyoung-ok detailed the treacherous journey of defecting from North Korea.

It was 2007 and Beijing was preparing for the 2008 Olympic Games. Kyoung-ok explained that the crackdown on North Korean defectors had intensified ahead of the games, with China repatriating those suspected of attempting an escape to South Korea. She and her mother were forced into hiding, living in Chinese caves before traveling through Vietnam and Cambodia with the assistance of a paid broker. The pair sought asylum at a Cambodian Christian church before arriving in South Korea in 2008.

Kyoung-ok has adjusted well to her life in the South, and has developed a close friendship with a fellow refugee she met at resettlement camp and who asked not to share her last name. The relationships built in her new home have proven vital to Kyoung-ok, who has lived on her own in Seoul to attend school since age 13, while her mother, a music teacher, worked in the southern part of the country.

[Excerpted from TIME]