Ever since the U.N. Commission of Inquiry issued its report last year, North Korea has been particularly sensitive to accusations of human rights violations. It shouldn’t surprise us that this sensitivity is especially keen when the scrutiny threatens to cut off a growing source of hard currency — its export of what amounts to slave labor to places like Russia, Malaysia, and Qatar. Press reports on the working conditions of these workers, and the regime’s spotty history of paying their (paltry) wages, have embarrassed the regime, embarrassed companies and governments that use North Korean labor, and sometimes, disrupted those arrangements.
Now, according to a new report from Radio Free Asia, Pyongyang is reacting to renewed media scrutiny of overseas North Korean laborers about like you’d expect Pyongyang to react to that:
“Particularly, when a foreign reporter or human rights activists tries to take a picture or film you, take the camera, camcorder or cell phone from them and smash it,” the document said, according to Do.
“They [North Korean workers] must physically smash them, but also they must pull out internal memory cards such as SD cards and then return the broken cameras or camcorders to their owners,” he said.
Workers are also directed to physically attack the journalists and investigators:
The action guide also instructs workers not to hesitate to respond with violence and to gang up on those trying to video or photograph them, he said.
“The action guide even includes a series of details: Do not kill, but inflict a blow or fracture until the person’s body is physically damaged,” Do said.
If a person apologizes while a North Korean is beating him, the North Korean must record his words with a video camera or cellphone and give the recording to the supervisor or manager of the work unit to which they belong, Do said.
“If North Korean workers block activities by preventing or beating a South Korean who is reporter or human rights activist, they will be evaluated according to their actions,” he said. “But if they don’t [follow the guidelines] and pictures or videos appear on the Internet or TV, they’ll be punished.” [RFA]
A caution is in order on the sourcing of the story: it’s attributed to an NGO, the Citizens’ Coalition for Human Rights of Abductees and North Korean Refugees (CHNK), citing “sources inside North Korea.” Although CHNK itself is a respected NGO, we’re in no position to evaluate the reliability and basis of knowledge of CHNK’s own anonymous sources.
If the report can be confirmed, it could have significant policy implications. It would amount to an order by the North Korean government to subnational groups to commit politically motivated violence against non-combatant citizens of other nations on foreign soil. In this case, Pyongyang’s political motivation is to suppress the work of journalists and NGOs, and to preempt policy discussions among governments. It’s far from the most egregious example of North Korean sponsorship of international terrorism — the direction to refrain from murder may even count as progress — but if these orders are attempted or carried out, they could meet the legal standard for the hate that dare not speak its name (at least in Foggy Bottom).
President Bush removed North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008. The Obama Administration’s official view is that North Korea is “not known to have sponsored any terrorist acts since the bombing of a Korean Airlines flight in 1987.” Discuss among yourselves.
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Update: New Focus also reports that the regime has tightened controls on its expat workers in China:
As a basic rule, it is understood that all workers must move in groups of at least fifteen people. But furthermore, television viewing is strictly prohibited. This is because South Korean dramas play regularly on Chinese broadcasts. If any labourer is caught moving out of bounds, away from the workplace and watching television, they will be sent straight back to North Korea the next day.
Previously, North Korean overseas labourers were allowed some degree of freedom, even being able to leave the workplace, provided that they moved in groups of two or three. However, during the lead up to Kim Il Sung’s birthday celebrations, the rules have changed and controls have tightened significantly.
To conclude, it can be observed that the North Korean government, in an effort to raise hard currency, is increasing its export labour, and, in addition, tightening its grip on them, especially in light of foreign influences such as Hallyu (the Korean Wave). The North Korean government has clearly shown, once again, its concerns and fears regarding the threat of exposure to Western cultural influences.
Or, I would add, its fears regarding the threat of Western exposure to how North Korea treats its people.