BBC correspondent offers glimpse into the heart of the North Korean state

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Excerpt from an article by Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, BBC correspondent detained in North Korea:

[After being stopped at the airport, while departing North Korea] I was told that my reporting had insulted the Korean people, and that I needed to admit my mistakes. They produced copies of three articles that had been published on the BBC website, as I reported on the visit of the Nobel laureates.

“Do you think Korean people are ugly?” the older man asked.
“No,” I answered.

“Do you think Korean people have voices like dogs?”
“No,” I answered again.

“Then why do you write these things?!” he shouted.

I was confused. What could they mean? One of the articles was presented to me, the offending passage circled in black marker pen:

“The grim-faced customs officer is wearing one of those slightly ridiculous oversized military caps that they were so fond of in the Soviet Union. It makes the slightly built North Korean in his baggy uniform comically top heavy. “Open,” he grunts, pointing at my mobile phone. I dutifully punch in the passcode. He grabs it back and goes immediately to photos. He scrolls through pictures of my children skiing, Japanese cherry blossom, the Hong Kong skyline. Apparently satisfied he turns to my suitcase. “Books?” he barks. No, no books. “Movies?” No, no movies. I am sent off to another desk where a much less gruff lady is already looking through my laptop.”

“Are they serious?” I thought. They had taken “grim-faced” to mean “ugly”, and the use of the word “barks” as an indication that I thought they sounded like dogs.

“I have studied English literature,” he said. “Do you think I do not understand what these expressions mean? … They began going through my articles word by word – finding offence in almost every one. But the words were not important; they were ammunition to throw at me, to force me to confess.

This entry was posted in , by Grant Montgomery.

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