Thae Yong Ho, a former deputy ambassador to the U.K., who in 2016 became the highest-ranking North Korean diplomat to defect to South Korea, says disseminating information to younger North Koreans is “very important” in spurring people to reject the state’s ideological control and authoritarian rule.
A North Korean defector, speaking on the condition of anonymity, says he worked with South Korea’s Defense Ministry on radio broadcasts targeting North Korean soldiers near the border area for three years “mainly discussing North Korea media’s incorrect reports.” But, he says, his role was discontinued in early 2018.
Losing this job was particularly galling, he adds, because he was inspired to defect in 2009 after listening to similar illegal foreign media broadcasts for years. “My experience of listening to radio in North Korea changed my life,” the defector says.
With the South Korean–based efforts to both expose North Korean human rights issues and educate people inside North Korea about the outside world under pressure, some international organizations are stepping up their activities via China.
The Human Rights Foundation (HRF), a New York-based NGO, claims to have smuggled approximately 100,000 data storage devices into North Korea via China over the past three years. The foundation sends donated USB flash drives and SD cards loaded with entertainment programs like movies and soap operas into the country. The devices often include news clippings and broadcasts, testimonials from defectors and political material such as translations of books about the fall of the Soviet Union and the Arab Spring.
The organization estimates that each device reaches about 10 people, implying the material has been seen by as many as 1.3 million North Koreans, or 1 in every 20 people in the country.
“Information is key to liberating the minds of the North Korean people,” says Alex Gladstein, chief strategy officer of HRF.