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As much as I agree that the National Security Law is overbroad and prone to abuse, cases like this show that parts of it remain necessary for the protection of South Korean citizens, including refugees from the North.
A North Korean defector was sentenced to two years behind bars on Friday for trying to pass on information about fellow defectors in South Korea to Pyongyang authorities.
A local court in this southeastern city said it found the 45-year-old woman, identified only by her surname Kim, guilty of gathering information on about 20 defectors in South Korea and attempting to send it to the North.
She was indicted on charges related to South Korea’s strict National Security Law that bans South Koreans, including North Korean defectors, from having contact with the North. [Yonhap]
Miss Kim told the judge that after her defection, she changed her mind, decided to return, contacted the North Korean
Embassy Consulate in Shenyang, and volunteered to become a spy to earn the right to return. It seems rather more likely that Miss Kim was sent South by the Reconnaissance Bureau of the Workers’ Party to collect intel on others. It seems unlikely that Miss Kim learned the sources and methods of espionage while already in South Korea.
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. [Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19]
In America, we have grown accustomed to a political polarity in which we associate “left” with “liberal.” Whatever the merits of that correlation here, it’s useless to any understanding of politics in South Korea, where very few people on either side of the political spectrum can be described as liberal, and the only real candidate for that description — at the least the only candidate I can offer — is a member of the “right” Saenuri Party. For the most part, the Korean right has never overcome the authoritarian reputation Park Chung-Hee and Chun Doo-Hwan gave it, and the arrival of democracy did not mean the end of the old right’s use of an overbroad National Security Law to censor nonviolent speech that wiser men would have held up to ridicule and criticism instead.
Meanwhile, the Korean left seems to have dedicated itself to justifying the continued need for the National Security Law, and to making its own criticism of the NSL, however legitimate in isolation, seem hypocritical in the broader context.
In the history of “democratic” South Korea, it is the left that has been responsible for the most pervasive and pernicious censorship. During the Kim Dae Jung and Roh Moo Hyun years, the Korean left censored human rights activists, refugees, newspapers, and playwrights, acting as Pyongyang’s thought police in the South. To the extent Minju-dang and Uri governments didn’t directly censor criticism of Kim Jong Il, they effectively practiced vicarious censorship, standing by while left-wing unions and “civic” groups used violence to suppress it. They even subsidized the unions and civic groups that were responsible for the worst of the street violence.
In many cases, the Korean left’s political leanings have been exposed as illiberal or totalitarian. On more occasions than I could ever describe here, members of “left” parties, and the civic groups and labor unions that support them, have been caught propagating Pyongyang’s ideology or acting as its agents for espionage — even violent attacks in support of a putative North Korean invasion.
Thus, what American and European liberals almost always get wrong about the Korean left is how illiberal it is, and how little it has in common with them. The Korean left lacks the liberal passion for protecting the vulnerable. American liberals want to lift restrictions on immigration and spare illegal immigrants from deportation; the South Korean left despises North Korean refugees and heaps abuse on them. It would rather let them die in place than offend Pyongyang by letting them in. Euro-American liberals loathe racism and nationalism; the Korean left propagates and exploits them. Euro-American labor unions fight for decent pay and working conditions globally; the Korean left supports the slavery and exploitation of its fellow Koreans at Kaesong. Traditionally, Euro-American liberals stood for freedom of expression. The Korean left would sacrifice the right of South Koreans to speak nonviolently, and of North Koreans to freedom of information, to appease the totalitarians in Pyongyang:
The main opposition party on Wednesday proposed a bill requiring government approval to send propaganda leaflets to North Korea as part of efforts to help ease simmering inter-Korean tensions.
The move by the New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) comes as South Korean activists’ sending of balloons with anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border has been a source of inter-Korean rows and tensions.
Pyongyang has urged Seoul to block such activities, while Seoul insists it has no legal ground to regulate their “freedom of speech.”
According to the revision bill to the Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Act proposed by Rep. Yoon Hu-duk of the NPAD, currencies, leaflets and any printed materials shall be added to the category of goods that need to be approved by the unification ministry before they can be sent across the inter-Korean border.
It also stipulates that the minister must give the go-ahead “to unspecified individuals with mobile equipment, including balloons,” before they can be launched.
The revision bill would also ban the unification minister from giving the green light to sending items into North Korea that “could cause legitimate concerns of hurting inter-Korean exchange and cooperation.”
“The leaflet campaign has hampered the recent thawing inter-Korean mood and posed threats to the safety of the people residing near the border regions,” Rep. Yoon said.
Criticizing the Seoul government for “sitting idle and doing nothing to regulate the activities,” the lawmaker said the revision bill would give the government a legal ground for regulating such activities to help protect residents and improve inter-Korean ties. [Yonhap]
Now take a moment and read about one of the people the NPAD wants to censor. Read about his life’s history, as described by the European liberalism’s newspaper of record:
The food shortage hit my family in 1997. My mother, my wife, and my son died of hunger that winter. The boy was always frail, he died because he could not eat properly.
All my family had died apart from my eldest child. I decided to escape North Korea so that he could live.
I had always lived in obedience to Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, but the death of my family changed that. Once I had dreamt of communism being achieved, listening to the lectures of the Kim family every day – but it was only a delusion.
Rebelling against the country would only lead to death. I decided to leave. [The Guardian]
The man fled to survive, but once outside North Korea, freedom of information showed him that it was also possible to live:
Despite the hardships, I tried to listen to South Korean broadcasts every night and sometimes people who had worked there would tell me stories. There was a programme called “To the People of the Workers’ Party” – the presenters were knowledgeable about the reality of North Korea. This is when I realised South Korea was not what I thought it would be. I decided to try to get there.
Today, he is one of the activists who sends leaflets into North Korea. Freedom of information transformed his life, and today, he wants to exercise his new right to speak freely, to give freedom of information to those he left behind. These are the rights — the universally guaranteed rights — that the NPAD wants to deny its fellow Koreans.
Can you imagine The Hankyoreh printing this story? Its editors wouldn’t tolerate it, and its readers would seethe at it.
I don’t think most people would call me a liberal, but I suppose it was around the time the angry left started to call itself “progressive” that I stopped using the word “liberal” pejoratively and attached a certain reverence to it. If liberalism still stands for things like tolerance and equality and nonviolence and free expression and free love, then Korea’s left does not deserve to be called liberal. Instead, it has degenerated to little more than authoritarianism in the service of totalitarianism.
~ ~ ~
This post was edited after publication.
“One of the biggest misconceptions I think people have of North Korea is that they are simple and naive,” he said. “But I feel that North Koreans as a group of people have gone through a lot of hardship, and their ability to survive in difficult situations are a lot higher that what people think. People think that unification will be a basketcase for North Koreans, but they will definitely be able to manage. People also think North Koreans will have a hard time adjusting to the market economy, but the black market is also growing under the regime’s nose, and people are used to working in this environment.” [The Atlantic]
Kang is a survivor of Camp 15, which some unconfirmed reports say has been dismantled as part of a hoax to fool the United Nations–reports I’ll believe when I see satellite imagery that proves it. You can buy Kang’s memoir, The Aquariums of Pyongyang, here; his AMA is here.
Two new reports from The Daily NK update us on Kim Jong Un’s efforts to (as Don Gregg put it) “change the nature of his country.”
Certain areas bordering China in Yangkang Province have been labeled “danger zones” as the latest effort by the North Korean authorities to beef up surveillance and inspections in the region. This move, in conjunction with the installation of new radio wave detectors to track down those making international calls, is the latest measure aimed at preventing defections and information from spilling outside the borders.
“In a recent inminban [people’s unit] meeting, there was a lecture on how certain areas adjacent to the border such as Hyesan and Baekam County have been designated ‘danger zones’ by the State Security Department [SSD],” a source in Yangkang Province told the Daily NK on Wednesday. [Daily NK]
On the other side of the border, even as China threatens to veto U.N. action on human rights, it is allowing North Korean security forces to hunt down refugee defection brokers.
North Korea has been deploying state security officials disguised as travelers with special personal visas or traders to China as an attempt to weed out brokers that aid defectors in escaping the country, a local source told the Daily NK. [Daily NK]
Meanwhile, Rimjin-gang passes along rumors of “two sets of executions” of party officials that “took place in Pyongyang in early October,” for “neglect on the job” and “forming a secret organization.” I’d treat the report with caution, at least until the AP summons the gumption to give it a corporate seal of authentication.
In an article by John Power for The Diplomat, Bassett calls the woman, a North Korean refugee named Yeonmi Park, “a liar” and a “spinstress” for telling The Irish Independent, in her slightly broken English: “Every morning and every … like … some riverside like this [gesturing out the window] you can see the dead bodies floating, and if you go out in the morning and just people dead there.”
Park’s actual words are on video, but Power–or whatever source he drew from–alters her words slightly but materially to, “Every morning at riversides like this you can see dead bodies floating. If you go out in the morning, they are there.” In search of a controversy, Power confronts Park with this misquote, and she responds, “What I meant was … it was the countryside and special border areas and in winters (you could see bodies in rivers).” Or so says John Power.
Power then quotes Felix Abt, a windbag North Korean apologist and Switzerland’s greatest embarrassment to humanity since François Genoud. Abt also accuses Park of lying: “So I did see poverty-stricken areas, infrastructure in shambles, broken bridges over rivers and I would certainly have seen dead bodies if there were any.” Abt, who has also called the U.N. Commission of Inquiry report on North Korea “a massive exaggeration,” tells Power, “[T]here may have been floating bodies in rivers in the terrible crisis years of the 90s when 600,000 people starved to death according to an estimate by the U.N. official who was then supervising foreign aid during the famine in the country.” (Abt’s sentences are as long as tapeworms.)
Bassett accuses Park of “sensationaliz[ing] the narrative to make everybody think that, you know, this is the ‘90s North Korea. It’s not.”
That is to say, Abt and Bassett insist that Park must be lying because there haven’t been “any” (Abt’s word) bodies found in North Korean rivers since 2000. Well, now…. If only some journalist who would rather inform his readers about a serious story than make a carnival sideshow of it would do some minimal research and conclusively establish just who’s really full of what here:
[February 11, 2008: Another North Korean “sensationalist”]
I’ll give Felix Abt this much–she certainly isn’t floating. Abt claims to have lived and “traveled unaccompanied to even remote provinces of” North Korea at the time this video was taken. Park is 21 now and was 13 when she fled, which would have been around 2006. I wasn’t with Yeonmi Park, so I can’t really prove she’s telling the truth, but I’ve already proven that Abt and Bassett aren’t, and I’m just getting started. Read more
The Swedish government has denied the asylum claim of a teenager who claims to be a North Korean from North Hamgyeong Province. The denial is based on a report by a contractor, Sprakab, that failed to identify the teen’s dialect, or the places he named in his interview. A Korean expert hired by Sprakab now claims that the company misquoted her. An appeal is all that stands between the young man’s life and deportation to China, repatriation to North Korea, and almost certain death:
A Korean expert hired to assess the teenager’s dialect by a controversial Swedish linguistic company that evaluates asylum applications told journalists that his strong dialect had left her in no doubt that he came from North Korea.
The company, Sprakab, nevertheless concluded in its report that his dialect did not fit with his story of growing up in North Korea’s northern districts.
The woman, who has not been named, accused the company her of twisting her words in its report. “I never said that he didn’t come from North Korea,”she said. “What they are saying is wrong. It’s ridiculous.”
The teenager has appealed against the decision. “If I go back to North Korea then I will die,” he told Swedish radio.
His lawyer, Arido Dagavro, said he had proof that the places the teenager had mentioned did in fact exist, as well as testimony from other North Korean refugees that he had spoken with a recognisable dialect from North Hamgyong province in recorded interviews.
“It’s obvious that the migration board didn’t have the expertise required to take a decision in this matter,” Degavro said. [The Guardian]
I don’t know any of the facts beyond what’s reported here, but I certainly hope the Swedes aren’t too tone-deaf to what’s happening at the U.N. to deny this young man a carefully considered decision on appeal. If the translation company, Sprakab, screwed this case up, that calls for more training about the circumstances of North Korean refugees at a bare minimum. It may also call for a reevaluation of Sprakab’s contract, and an inquiry into whether Swedish officials pressured Sprakab to deny applications.
To a degree, the error is understandable. Every country considering asylum applications must deal with a large percentage of fraudulent claims—claims that ultimately disadvantage those with legitimate fears of persecution. Governments must learn to distinguish those cases by understanding the circumstances and languages of the claimants.
Hat tip to a reader.
One North Korean worker helping to build the high-rise said: “People like us don’t usually get paid. The money does not come to the person directly. It’s nothing to do with me, it’s the [North Korean recruitment] company’s business.”
A project manager of the lavish development said the workers “don’t have a single rial themselves” and “borrow money from us if they need small things like cigarettes”.
“The descriptions of the conditions North Korean workers endure in Qatar – abuse of vulnerability, withholding of wages and excessive overtime – are highly indicative of state-sponsored trafficking for forced labour,” a modern form of slavery, said Aidan McQuade, the director of Anti-Slavery International.
I realize that choosing the most loathesome friends imaginable is an established custom in Qatar, but does FIFA have any standards? Oh, right. But on the positive side, at least the presence of the North Koreans should make it easier for Qataris to sneak a drink now and then.
The Qatari Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs insists it takes the issue of worker payment very seriously, but says that no North Koreans have complained. No, I don’t suppose they have.
A Seoul court sentenced Tuesday a mid-ranking state intelligence agent to two and a half years in prison for instructing other agents to forge documents to frame a North Korean defector as a spy.
The 48-year-old National Intelligence Service (NIS) agent, surnamed Kim, was convicted of instructing other agents to fabricate the Chinese immigration records of Yoo Woo-seong, a 34-year-old defector who was then an employee of the Seoul municipal government, to charge him with espionage.
“Kim routinely made excuses before the judges and asked his collaborators to give false testimonies to make him appear innocent,” the Seoul Central District Court said in a ruling. [Yonhap]
Why would an NIS agent do this? My best guess, based on this report, is that the investigator really believed Yoo was guilty, couldn’t get the evidence the right way, and then decided to fabricate the missing pieces. Obviously, that excuses nothing.
Eleven North Korean defectors were arrested by Chinese police while seeking to cross the border with Myanmar, a source said Friday.
Local police rounded up the defectors — 10 adults and a seven-year-old child — at around 3-4 a.m. on the day, shortly before they were to head towards the border in the southern region of Yunnan Province, according to the source.
They were immediately put in custody in a police station there, added the source.
A South Korean foreign ministry official said the government is still trying to determine the exact details of the situation. [Yonhap]
For China to do this, even as the U.N. debates action on a Commission of Inquiry report that called on China to grant asylum to North Korean refugees and stop repatriating them, tells you all you need to know about China’s contempt for human rights, and how it will vote in the Security Council.
Perhaps it’s time to start talking about alternatives like a special tribunal, and actions to block the assets of Chinese officials and agencies responsible for these repatriations. If no one talks about alternatives like these, it’s a sure bet that China will feel safe to veto any U.N. action with impunity.
The AP’s Hyung-Jin Kim reports on how the 25,000 North Korean refugees in the South use Chinese cell phones, which reach across the border into North Korea, to send remittances to their families at home, and to keep food in their bellies.
Once Lee was certain she was talking to her sister, a broker took the phone on the North Korean end. Lee transferred 2 million won ($1,880) to a South Korean bank account belonging to a Korean-Chinese who was working with the broker, who confirmed the transfer and handed the phone back. The arrangement gave Lee’s sister 70 percent of the money, with a 30 percent cut for the go-betweens. [AP, Hyung-Jin Kim]
This is the kind of engagement that feeds the hungry and drives change, which is why Pyongyang is so desperate to shut it down.
It is her first time in Ireland and, indeed, Europe. But at the age of just 21, this sweetly-confident, intelligent and tiny-framed young woman, who managed to flee the famine-torn country at the age of 13, is already a global spokesperson for her own people – a people terrorised into submission and silence while the wider world ignores what she describes as a “holocaust”. [Irish Independent]
Miss Park’s life went from latent terror to a living hell when her parents were arrested.
Yeonmi and her sister, Eunmi were left to fend for themselves, at the age of nine and 11, foraging on the mountainsides for grasses, plants, frogs and even dragonflies to avoid starving to death. “Everything I used to see, I ate them,” she said. Asked if any adults around knew the children were surviving alone, Yeonmi tries to explain. “People were dying there. They don’t care… most people are just hungry and that’s why they don’t have the spirit or time to take care of other people.”
Park was reunited with her parents later, but what happened to them next may be worse than death. There’s also video at that link
; unfortunately, it didn’t embed.
Let’s hope that Park evokes Ireland’s own historical memories of a famine caused by government indifference and cruelty. If nothing else, maybe the Irish government will do a better job of enforcing U.N. sanctions against selling luxury goods to Pyongyang.
Commendably, the EU is now leading the U.N.’s effort to hold Kim Jong Un and his regime accountable for crimes against humanity. That is a vast improvement over its role until recently, which was predominantly one of softening and even violating U.N. sanctions designed to pressure North Korea to change.
Park’s visit is not only welcome for its impact on pubic opinion and policy in Europe, but also because another North Korean is leading the world toward how it should respond to the crisis in her homeland.
“One time I was sent back to North Korea through a broker so I couldn’t trust anybody any longer. So when I came out to China again I got a map and a compass and a bicycle, I just went”, he explained.
“I prepared a little mini tent, a change of clothes, a little of the money I earned,” park said, describing the items he took with him from the North. “I didn’t know how long it was going to take so I couldn’t bring food”. He said he also had a smartphone to help guide him, but struggled with navigation off major roads.
For Park, the early stages felt like an adventure – he was “young and free”. But as he got closer to Mongolia and felt the temperature drop he realised “it wasn’t going to be that much fun”. He says he got by charging his phone battery intermittently at service stations and eating noodles. Once at his destination, Park was able to travel to South Korea, arriving around a year ago ready to start a new life. [The Guardian]
The ride took 12 days.
A South Korean opposition lawmaker filed a resolution Thursday calling for the implementation of past inter-Korean agreements to stop slander between the two sides.
The resolution, submitted by Rep. Sim Jae-kwon of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD), calls on the two Koreas to recognize that mutual recognition and respect are the basis for trust-building. It also urges the two sides to honor such agreements as the joint statement of July 1972, which bans cross-border slander. [Yonhap]
Sim went further than this, and called on the South Korean police to take what he darkly called “appropriate action” against the Fighters for a Free North Korea, in the name of “inter-Korean relations” — in other words, censorship to appease Pyongyang.
But once you agree to impose Pyongyang’s definition of slander on a free society to appease it, there’s no end to the reach of Pyongyang’s censorship, because inter-Korean relations will always be subject to however Pyongyang reinterprets “slander.” And when the likes of Sim were in power, the state’s censorship, or content-selective subsidies, extended to the newspapers, theater, movies, political demonstrations, and even the intimidation of refugees from the North to keep silent. That is no more liberal than Kim Jong Un is a Marxist.
Sim’s call is also a warning that North Korea’s sympathizers in the South will blame Park Sang-Hak and those who join him if the North attacks them in some way. I do wish Park would try to be a bit more unpredictable in his cat-and-mouse game with those who might be tracking his operations. That might even make their activities more interesting for journalists. And if there is an attack, it would inevitably focus media speculation on someone inside South Korea who revealed Park’s location to the North Koreans.
NKnet is hosting its 4th annual North Korean Human Rights International Film Festival this coming Friday and Saturday, September 26-27, in Gwanghwamun, Seoul.
This year there are 14 films from Korea, the US, and Saudi Arabia, and two of the films received financial support from the festival:
100 min. – Korea – documentary – no English subtitles
Directed by: Kim Gyu-Min (the director of Winter Butterfly, which played at the first NHIFF in 2011)
Category: Reunification of the Korean Peninsula
*Following the film, there will be a conversation with the director, who is originally from North Korea (interpretation not available).
10 hours from now, the ceasefire line will collapse and the Korean peninsula will be reunified.
On Thursday, November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall – symbolizing the division of Germany – fell. It wasn’t through an agreement of the East and West German governments that it happened on that day. Nor were East or West German academics or anyone else from around the world for that matter able to foresee the wall would come down on November 9, 1989. A year later Germany was reunified for the first time in 41 years through the votes of the East and West German citizenry in free elections.
– What might transpire if November 9 were to come to the Korean peninsula?
– How much have we prepared for a Korean 11/9?
– In preparing for a Korean 11/9, what are the things we must do first?
– Is there any way to know what will happen on 11/10 and beyond?
Dong-jin works at the immigration office uncovering illegal immigrants. His relationship with his father, who has Alzheimer’s disease, is one of obligation, and things are awkward between his younger brother, Dong-seok, and the family.
Coworker Nam-il regularly uses his position to commit corruption, while Dong-jin’s youngest sibling Eun-sung is led by compassion and unable to be cold-hearted. Unable to build relationships with those around him in his lonely daily life, Dong-jin finds himself favorably inclined toward Yeon-hwa, a Chinese-Korean singer he met at noraebang (a singing room).
When she suddenly receives a call from a broker who is guiding her niece, Soon-bok (who has escaped from North Korea), things fall into disarray. Seeing Yeon-hwa’s difficult situation and Soon-bok’s purity and will to live, Dong-jin starts to change little by little from his cold ways. [SPOILER ALERT – stop reading here if you plan to see the film] In the wake of his weak father’s death and then Yeon-hwa’s suicide, Dong-jin works hard to find Soon-bok.
All of this amounts to nothing as his coworker Nam-il tries to shift the blame for his corrupt dealings to Dong-jin and his sister Eun-sung betrays him in order to protect the family. Having lost everything, Dong-jin is left alone only with his sad reality and desire to see Soon-bok.
For more complete information about the festival, please visit NKnet’s website, where I’ve put up lots of trailers, photos, film schedule and descriptions, how to RSVP, directions, reviews, subtitle info, the program for the opening ceremony, etc.