More on North Korean defector discovered working for Seoul Metropolitan Government

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The data gathered by the City Hall bureaucrat Yoo, which he fed to Pyongyang, could potentially threaten the safety of thousands of North Korean defectors, as well as their families still in North Korea, and has also raised questions about oversight of the South Korean government’s handling of defectors.

He apparently joined the Seoul city government in June 2011 in a two-year contract. The contract public servant was hired by the Seoul Metropolitan Government through an employment procedure for North Korean defectors , and worked at the welfare policy bureau. He was in charge of collating information for more than 10,000 North Koreans who have fled their homeland over the years. His duties apparently included meeting with families on a weekly basis, providing advice and counseling by phone and collecting details on the defectors’ lives.

Security officials were reportedly alerted to the man’s activities after it was learned that he was travelling to China frequently and may also have crossed the border back into North Korea.

“The city government is keeping a close eye on the case, waiting until the result of the investigation comes out,” said Lee Chang-hak, the spokesperson for the Seoul Metropolitan Government, emphasizing Yoo had limited access to information, such as names and phone numbers.

The claim has not helped address the understandable paranoia suffered by the nearly 25,000 North Korean defectors living in the south, said Kim Sang-hun, chairman of the Database Centre for North Korean Human Rights. “Many North Koreans here feel that the whole North Korean apparatus is after them,” he said.

In any case, it is the first time a North Korea defector working at a public office has been arrested for espionage. The man’s family are still apparently in North Korea and it is also possible that they were being used as hostages to make him comply with Pyongyang’s demands for information on defectors.

North Korean defector charged in Seoul with spying

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Dong-a Ilbo reports that a former North Korean defector, who was working at City Hall in Seoul in a capacity of assisting other defectors, has been charged with spying, the first incident of its kind in South Korea.

“Circumstantial evidence suggests that the official … handed over to Pyongyang the full list of defectors living in Seoul and details of their situations, setting off alarm bells in the South Korean government’s management of defectors.

“He was charged with violating a ban on execution of objectives, special infiltration and escape, assembly and communication under the National Security Act for the State Security Department in Pyongyang.

“According to South Korean intelligence, the official defected alone to the South in 2004 and used to be part of the North Korean elite. He worked as a surgeon for one year after graduating from Chongjin Medical School in North Hamgyong Province. After defecting, he majored in Chinese and business at a prestigious private university in Seoul, and was hired by a trading company thanks to his fluency in English and Chinese. His family reportedly remains in the North.

“Intelligence authorities are investigating if he applied for the city government post with the intent to spy for Pyongyang, as well as the process of how he handed over data at the instruction of North Korea’s State Security Department.”

China arrests traffickers of North Korean women

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Chosun Ilbo reports Chinese police have busted a human trafficking ring that lured North Korean women into defecting and indentured labor or prostitution.

Chinese media reports said police in Yanji, Jilin Province, which is home to a large population of ethnic Koreans, arrested four foreigners and one Chinese. Police found 12 North Korean women who had been sold to Heilongjiang Province and other parts of China and sent them back to the North. North Korean sources said that would mean sending them to torture or death and accused Beijing of violating humanitarian principles.

One woman identified only by her surname Choe (25) was arrested along with a Chinese national also identified only by his family name Shi, reports said.

Choe said she crossed the border into China in 2007 at the age of 19 after finishing high school in order to make money for her family. But instead of finding a job in China, she was sold to a mentally disabled man in Heilongjiang Province. She realized she was a victim of human trafficking, but her inability to communicate in Chinese made it impossible for her to escape. A few months later, she was sold to another Chinese man and had his child.

Choe met Shi early last year after he was released from prison after serving time for human trafficking, and helped him recruit other North Koreans for their human trafficking ring, Chinese police said. They lured 20 North Korean women between in their 20s to 40s to China. The gang were paid 10,000-15,000 yuan per woman, and accomplices in North Korea 3,000-5,000 yuan.

A source in China said, “I think Chinese police announced the arrest because they want to back claims that North Korean defectors are not refugees but victims of crime, or illegal aliens.”

Thousands of North Korean cameras on Chinese border

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With more and more defectors heading south, Kim Jong-un’s North Korean regime spent $1.66 million on over 16,000 border-security cameras in the first 11 months of 2012, the South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo reports, as he continues to build a spy network on his own citizens. And that’s not good news for anyone under the watching eyes of the Supreme Leader who’s trying to seek refuge amidst, you know, democracy. The data, according to Chosun Ilbo, is based on Chinese customs data:

“[North Korea] imported a total of 16,420 CCTV cameras worth about US$1.66 million from China from January to November last year.

“In 2009, the first year China published statistics on bilateral trade, the North imported a whopping 40,465 surveillance cameras from China. In 2010 the figure was 22,987 and in 2011 22,118. Altogether the North has imported over 100,000 cameras worth about $10 million.”

That’s a lot of surveillance equipment for such a small country: North Korea’s addition of 100,000 closed-circuit TV cameras over three years is a gain of about one for every 244 citizens, compared to the approximately 1.85 million in all of Britain — or one for every 33 of its population. London, which has upwards of a third of those British spycams, is of course more densely packed than Pyonyang.

But Kim Jong-un isn’t focusing on the cities — he’s looking for runaways. As analysts tell Chosun Ilbo from South Korea, “cameras are being positioned at key points along the long border the two nations share in order to detect and capture would-be defectors from the North.” As The Telegraph‘s Julian Ryall explains, it’s part of a larger push to keep North Korean citizens from crossing the border:

“Kim Jong-un has carried out a crackdown on people hoping to escape their repressive homeland, as well as anyone using a mobile phone to communicate across the border and smugglers bringing in banned newspapers, books and recordings of television programmes that show the lives of people in prosperous South Korea.”

And the North Korean regime’s efforts seem to be working, with the number of defectors coming out of the country dropping sharply over the past three years, just as the camera trade has ramped up. “Just over 1,500 North Koreans arrived in the South in 2012 compared to more than 2,700 the previous year, according to the South’s Unification Ministry,” reported the BBC, which notes that the figure is a seven-year low. “Most North Korean refugees escape across the border with China and then make their way to South Korea via third countries.”

[Repost from The Atlantic]



Technology a dictator’s dilemma

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In his New Year’s greeting earlier this month, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un extolled the benefits of technology, saying: “The industrial revolution in the new century is, in essence, a scientific and technological revolution, and breaking through the cutting edge is a shortcut to the building of an economic giant.”

Even Kim must realize that it’s pretty hard to be “cutting edge” if you have no access to the Internet. And yet, that is the case for nearly all of the 24 million people in his country. While it is hard to get accurate figures on most everything related to North Korea, Martyn Williams, who runs, estimates that the number of North Koreas with Internet access is probably in the “low thousands.” Such access tends to be limited to people in elite or scientific circles.

North Korean leaders have long viewed technological prowess as a source of government legitimacy. The recent satellite launch, for example, can be pointed to as a symbol of regime “accomplishment.”

North Korea is facing an extreme version of the dictator’s dilemma. On the one hand, its leaders are attracted to the knowledge, economic growth, and global connectivity that are facilitated by the Internet. At the same time, they know that the Internet would threaten their grip on power.

Most regimes facing this quandary have chosen to embrace technology, even with the corresponding loss of control. North Korea is likely to do the same. The difference is that it might not survive the consequences.

Stinging UN call for international inquiry into North Korean human rights

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The U.N.’s top human rights official said Monday that as many as 200,000 people are being held in North Korean political prison camps rife with torture, rape and slave labor, and that some of the abuses may amount to crimes against humanity.

For that reason, said Navi Pillay, the world body’s high commissioner for human rights, nations must mount an independent probe into North Korea’s human rights record.

She said the political prison camp system involves “rampant violations, including torture and other forms of cruel and inhumane treatment, summary executions, rape, slave labor, and forms of collective punishment that may amount to crimes against humanity.” Living conditions are reported to include scarce food, little to no medical care and inadequate clothing.

The U.N. Human Rights Council and the U.N. General Assembly, which includes all 193 member nations, have condemned North Korea’s human rights record, but Pillay said stronger action is needed, including such a probe – one authorized by the United Nations but performed by experts independent of the U.N. system.

The stinging criticism and call from the world body’s top human rights official for “a full-fledged international inquiry into serious crimes” in North Korea comes a year after Kim Jong Un became the new leader of the nuclear-armed Asian country upon the death of his father.

“There were some initial hopes that the advent of a new leader might bring about some positive change in the human rights situation,” Pillay said. “But a year after Kim Jong Un became the country’s new supreme leader we see almost no sign of improvement.”

Pillay’s statement was based on extensive research submitted by a special investigator for the 47-nation Human Rights Council based in Geneva and meetings that she held there in December with two survivors of the prison camps, said Pillay’s spokesman, Rupert Colville.


The changing role of women in North Korean society

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According to Marcus Noland, the deputy director of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, North Korean women were traditionally pushed out of employment in core state organizations. “And that is why they ended up in the market,” he adds. “Certainly, there was no intention on the part of North Korea decision-makers to raise the role of women relative to men. Just the opposite.”

“Women, because of their prominence in the market, are at the forefront of acts of civil disobedience,” Noland says, emphasizing that civil disobedience is still extremely unusual in North Korea. “The protests are generally reactive and defensive in nature, but women are very prominent in them.”

The extra burden women carry is beginning to have social consequences, with young women hoping to delay marriage to avoid taking on a husband. For men, their emasculation within their own households is now a fact of life.

“Whatever your wife tells you to do, you do,” says Mr. Kim, despairing. “If women say it’s a cow, it’s a cow. If they say it’s a giraffe, it’s a giraffe. We are slaves, slaves of the women. Women’s voices have become louder. …  Men without wives become beggars. They become so hungry that they can’t go to work. Then they have to go to market to beg. This has happened to between five and seven men I know.”

And North Korean women now have a new figurehead: the fashionable wife of the young leader Kim Jong Un, first lady Ri Sol-ju. North Korean women hope her high-profile role might translate into gains for them.

UN called upon to examine human rights in North Korea

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Human Rights Watch (HRW) called Friday for a UN commission to examine human rights abuses in North Korea. The rights group stated that little has changed within the totalitarian government since Kim Jong-un succeeded his father Kim Jong-il in leading the country one year ago.

HRW stated the situation may be getting worse, noting a drop in the number of individuals escaping into China and reports by successful escapees of increasing crackdowns on escape attempts. The rights group also noted a recent UN report citing widespread malnutrition and hunger in the country.

HRW called on the UN to create a commission of inquiry to investigate human rights abuses in the country: “For more than 60 years, successive regimes have killed or starved millions, and the world has done little in response. No one should labor under the misperception that the regime can be influenced by negotiation, and reformed in some traditional sense. Only coordinated outside pressure has a chance to make an impact. Recording, exposing, condemning and calling for accountability for serious abuses may lead some in the regime to realize that there are potential costs to their behavior.”

HRW said a UN resolution will only pass with the support of the nations of the European Union, as well as South Korea, Japan and the US. The rights group called on those nations to voice support for a UN investigation of human rights in North Korea.

In November the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) Marzuki Darusman expressed concern over the lack of development in human rights in the nation, despite having called on new leader Kim Jong-un last January to improve the situation. In June the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) reported that North Korea’s caste system leads to abuses and human rights violations in the country.

Vulnerable North Korean women

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One major — and largely unspoken — problem for North Korean women is skyrocketing domestic violence.

Ewha University’s Kim Seok-hyang makes a point of asking North Korean defectors about domestic violence. “I interviewed more than 60 people. All of them agreed violence is there against women. Violence against women is not news for them. It’s so natural, it’s happening almost every day.”

She blames men’s alienation and frustration with their diminution of power within the family for the problem.

Outside the home as well, in the marketplace, women are vulnerable too, says Marcus Noland, the deputy director of the Peterson Institute for International Economics. In his research of women working in local markets, 95 percent reported paying bribes to police and officials, who would try to shake them down.

That — and being exposed to new ideas in the marketplace — could affect women’s political views. “Women, because of their prominence in the market, are at the forefront of acts of civil disobedience,” Noland says, emphasizing that civil disobedience is still extremely unusual in North Korea. “The protests are generally reactive and defensive in nature, but women are very prominent in them.”

No immediate outcomes from Richardson Schmidt North Korean visit

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Former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson and Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt failed to secure the release of a Korean-American held in North Korea during a controversial trip that ended on Thursday.

Richardson told a media briefing at Beijing’s airport he was unable to meet Korean-American Kenneth Bae, a 44-year-old tourist who was detained late last year and has been charged with unspecified crimes against the state.

Richardson said he was told that judicial proceedings against Bae would start soon, although he gave no details. North Korean authorities assured him of Bae’s good health, he said.

“That is encouraging,” Richardson said of Bae’s condition, adding he was also given permission to “proceed with a letter from his son, and that will happen shortly”.

It was unclear if Richardson had left such a letter with North Korean authorities or if it would be sent later. Bae is being held in a location far from Pyongyang, Richardson said.

Google Executive Eric Schmidt said his visit to Pyongyang was private and was to talk about a free and open Internet. “The technology in North Korea is very limited,” Schmidt said, with a 3G cellphone network for about a million phones run by Egypt’s Orascom Telecom Media and Technology Holding SAE that does not support the Internet.

Access to the Internet is available to the government, the military and to universities but not the general public and users are supervised, he said.

“The government has to do something. They have to make it possible for people to use the Internet”, he said. “They showed up and listened to us and asked us a lot of questions…. It’s their choice now, and time, in my view, for them to start or they will remain behind.”