Tag Archives: North Korea


North Korean Biochemical Weapons Expert Flees to Finland

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim

A North Korean scientist from a microbiology research center in Ganggye, Chagang Province near the border with China defected to Finland last month, according to sources from Yonhap News Agency.

The 47-year-old scientist, who is only identified by his surname, Lee, was also carrying 15 gigabytes of data on human experiment results with him. He apparently defected due to misgivings he had about the research being conducted.

Lee fled to Finland on June 6 through the Philippines, according to a North Korean human rights group. He is expected to speak before the European Parliament later this month.

Other North Korean defectors have shed light on how prisoners in the country’s “labor detention camps” are treated, and some of their testimonies include guards and doctors performing cruel punishments and experiments on them.

We will update this story as further details are revealed.

See Also


North Korean Defector Joseph Kim Shares His Story in Reddit AMA

North and South Korea Face Increasing Linguistic Gap


Featured image via journeylism.nl

subscribe button




U.S. Taekwondo Practitioners Plan DMZ Peace Walk


A group of U.S. taekwondo masters is organizing a peace walk across the demilitarized zone that divides North and South Korea, reports the Voice of America.

Woo-jin Jung, a Korean American taekwondo grandmaster and publisher of the Taekwondo Times, said the peace walk is an effort to help promote positive engagement between the two Koreas, regardless of the dividing border.

“We plan on sharing different techniques with North Korean athletes and hold a seminar in Pyongyang,” Jung told VOA.

Last week, the 73-year-old grandmaster met with taekwondo officials in Pyongyang, including Chang Ung, who heads the International Taekwondo Federation and represents North Korea on the International Olympic Committee. Jung said North Korea supports the peace walk, adding that he’s also expecting a positive response from the South Korean government.

Both Koreas had approved of a similar walk back in May. About 30 international female activists, including American feminist Gloria Steinem and Nobel Peace laureate Leymah Gbowee, traveled through the heavily fortified DMZ, where they were allowed to march at specific checkpoints. However, some criticized WomenCrossDMZ, the organizers behind the march, for not addressing the human rights violations against women in North Korea.

This is not the first time Jung has attempted to foster goodwill between the two Koreas through martial arts. In 2007 and 2011, Jung helped coordinate U.S. tours for two North Korean taekwondo demonstration teams.

See Also


Korean Humanitarian Uses Taekwondo to Empower Syrian Refugee Children

[VIDEO] Adorable 3-Year-Old Taekwondo Devotee Recites Student Creed


Featured image via Woo-jin Jung/Facebook

subscribe button




Seoul Holds Mass Wedding for North Korean Defectors

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

Seoul held a mass wedding ceremony for North Korean defectors on Tuesday, reports Channel News Asia.

About 100 couples were chosen to get married at the free wedding ceremony in Seoul’s Olympic Park. The South Korean government and nonprofit organization Happy World organized the ceremony in an effort to assist North Korean defectors who are unable to afford a wedding of their own, according to the Chosun Ilbo.

Sixty of the newlyweds married fellow North Korean defectors, while 30 tied the knot with foreigners, mostly Chinese. Meanwhile, 10 North Koreans wedded South Koreans. Ages of the brides and grooms ranged from their 20s to their 60s.

South Korea’s Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo attended the mass wedding and wished the couples a blissful marriage. He added that the newlyweds are setting the foundation for the unification of the two Koreas.

Screen Shot 2015-07-01 at 9.38.08 AMNorth Korean bride with her South Korean husband at a Seoul mass wedding.
(Screenshot captured via Channel News Asia)

One bride described the ceremony as “extraordinary,” claiming that it’s not easy to meet the “right person” in a relationship.

“I’m North Korean and he is South Korean. Not only is the language different, but also the culture,” she told Channel News Asia as she stood next to her smiling husband. “I think it’s really great that we can live together by overcoming cultural barriers and being understanding and respectful of each other.”

See Also


South Korean Brides and Grooms Hire Fake Wedding Guests

‘Maria the Korean Bride’ Married Strangers in All 50 States


Featured image via Yonhap

subscribe button



northern limit line

‘Northern Limit Line’ Tops South Korean Box Office

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

Northern Limit Line, a film that depicts a 2002 inter-Korean naval skirmish, topped South Korea’s weekly box office this past weekend, dropping Jurassic World to second place.

The 3D maritime action flick set the record as this year’s most-viewed Korean film on its opening weekend, according to the Korean Film Council. The film hit 1 million admissions last Sunday, dominating 40.4 percent of the weekend market share and earning about a total of $9.9 million over five days, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Directed by Kim Hak-soon, Northern Limit Line chronicles the Second Battle of Yeonpyeong, which escalated when a North Korean patrol boat crossed the contested Yellow Sea border and engaged a South Korean patrol boat on June 29, 2002. The naval skirmish killed six South Koreans and left 19 injured, whereas the North suffered about 30 casualties.

However, the battle did not receive much media coverage at the time, as South Korea’s national soccer team was playing against Turkey in the semifinals of the 2002 FIFA World Cup.

Northern Limit Line memorializes and centers on three fallen South Korean officers: Lieutenant Yoon Young-ha (Kim Mu-yeol), Sergeant Han Sang-gook (Jin Goo) and Corporal Park Dong-hyuk (Lee Hyun-woo).

Director Kim initially did not have the funds to produce Northern Limit Line and turned to crowdfunding campaign to raise money and awareness about the film. In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Kim said more than 7,000 individuals contributed to the campaign, which amassed about a third of the film’s $6-million budget.

“Small and large sums donated by people across the country came together to make this movie,” Kim said at a press conference, according to the Korea Herald. “My hope is that viewers will be able to watch it and remember the six soldiers who sacrificed their lives while the rest of the country was celebrating.”

You can watch the trailer for Northern Limit Line below:

See Also


Eugene Sun Park to Produce Film About Japanese American Internment

Seoul to Financially Support Animated Film on ‘Comfort Women’


Featured image via HanCinema

subscribe button


Far From Being Forgotten: Learning Lessons From the Korean War


This article was published in the June 2000 issue of KoreAm Journal by then-assistant editor (and current contributing editor), Jimmy Lee. Some portions of the article have been edited for relevance and to include additional information.


In high school U.S. history class, it was the war that broke out in Korea on June 25, 1950—after World War II and before Vietnam. There weren’t any deeper examinations into the subject after that. But the Korean War is not even officially over, yet it’s regarded as the “Forgotten War.”

As for me, a 1.5-generation Korean American, the history of the Korean War held no interest compared to my thirst for soaking up all things American.

But as we put this issue together, it struck me for the first time that the Korean War is not so distant after all. My father was 9 years old and my mother was only 5 when their lives were changed forever. And when my mother described how she fled Seoul—running away from artillery shells, holding my grandmother’s hand—this part of history suddenly hit home.

Nothing could ever be the same again. During the fighting that lasted three years, millions of people died—mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters—and countless other lives were drastically altered.

So for this June 2000 issue, KoreAm commemorates the 50th anniversary of the start of the Korean War by remembering the past and looking at the present and how the Korean War has affected our lives today.

It Began With a Division


When North Korean forces attacked the South, the leader of the North, Kim II Sung, a communist guerilla fighter, claimed to be unifying a country divided. After World War II ended in 1945 and Korea gained independence from Japan, Korea was split into two regions, along the 38th parallel, with the North controlled by the Soviet Union and the South by the United States.

The United States had helped to put in power in the South Syngman Rhee, a fierce anti-communist who had spent most of t!” last few decades in the United States. Rhee, who turned out to be an authoritarian, however, was a guise the United States used to bait Kim to start a war.

Kim feared that the South would merely be a puppet of the United States, so he started the war to liberate Korea from imperialist western powers.

But there were other parties involved, namely China and the other emerging superpower, the Soviet Union. Prior to the invasion Kim consulted with Soviet leader Josef Stalin and Chinese Premier Mao Zedong for their support. One promise Kim gave Stalin was that he would be able to capture the South before the United States could intervene, and thus, prevent a drawn-out war.

But some scholars now believe Soviet leader Josef Stalin orchestrated the war to measure the strength of the United States as the Cold War was taking shape.

“As the chief architect behind the war, Stalin had been looking at the logistics of invading South Korea for some time,” says Prof. Soh Jin Chull of South Korea’s Wonkwong University. “Kim II Sung became the designated loyal ‘executor’ of the war and China’s Mac Zedong became the ‘guarantor’ of a successful military campaign.

In the end, whether by a Communist conspiracy or American baiting, millions of lives were caught between the crossfire of egos and politics.

A Nation Forever Changed


The signing of the armistice in 1953 ended the fighting but not the war. And without an end, it’s hard to see the what the marks left on the Korean peninsula are. First, with North Korea cut off from the rest of the world, it’s difficult to assess what impacts the Korean War has had on its people. But its inability to capture the South and unite the country contributed to its retreat into what it is now -which is, other than having a sizable military and famine, we’re really not sure.

In the South, the legacy of the Korean War is a bit more distinguishable. Korea has grown into one of the leading economies in the world today, ranking in the top 15. Contributing to its rise as an “Asian Tiger,” one of several Asian countries whose economies grew dramatically during the ’70s and ’80s, is the support provided by the United States over the last 50 years.

With the presence of U.S. military forces, agreed upon with the signing of the Mutual Defense Agreement between the United States and the Republic of Korea (ROK), Korea had been able to direct its resources towards building up its industries and bringing in foreign investment, rather than using most of its money to assemble a military to protect itself from a potential attack by the North. Despite the financial crisis of 1998, the Korean economy is back to being robust.

And with all the American troops stationed in Korea, a nation that had been ethnically homogenous for thousands of years was no longer. An influx of western culture was then inevitable—rock and roll, McDonald’s, etc.

But the presence of these soldiers has also fostered less desirable industries. Prostitution catered for U.S. soldiers, legalized and regulated by the government, has flourished, creating a new class of women looked down upon by the Korean people.

The number of violent and criminal acts committed by U.S. soldiers has also proliferated. In 1999, there were 956 reported crimes committed by U.S. soldiers, up from 575 in 1998, according to the Criminal Division of the Supreme Public Prosecutors Office. And last year, only 3.5 percent of those cases were tried in a Korean court.

“We are suffering because of the murders and other violence perpetrated by the ‘Keepers of Peace.’ We denounce this situation,” read a statement released on Mar. 22, 2000 and signed by 73 organizations in the South calling for a revision in the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) in order to guarantee greater accountability for crimes.

Editor’s Note: The SOFA has remained a contentious issue up until the last few years. Anti-American military sentiment has also remained steady, buoyed along by high-profile criminal cases.

Notably in 2002, the drivers of a U.S. military vehicle that fatally injured two 14-year-old South Korean girls were sent back to the States after a U.S. military court found them not guilty. In 2011, a 21-year-old American solider was sentenced to 10 years in prison for rape of a 17-year-old Korean girl. Most recently, the “inadvertent” live anthrax case in May also raised calls for revisiting the terms of SOFA.

A People No Longer the Same


As a Korean American, is the Korean War relevant?

Growing up, my mom wouldn’t let me waste anything: toothpaste, food, even paper towels. One paper towel had to go towards at least two cleaning jobs. As a kid, I thought this obsessiveness was freakish, and I found it embarrassing.

“You don’t have to do that, mom,” I would say, “we’ve got plenty of paper towels.”

But then I learned that she was sick in the war, with her parents having to scrimp to get the necessary drugs.

I realize now that survival is a cultural value learned in war. My mom has it. I hope one day that it too was instilled in me.

[The ones] who survived the death and destruction—their stories give voice to our parents’ generation who, only fifty short years ago, came of age in the aftermath of loss and devastation, of families torn apart, and a nation flattened. Nothing could ever be the same again.

The Korean War is far from forgotten.


button_3 copy


In this Thursday, March 26, 2015 photo, Kim Kuk Gi, one of two South Korean men detained in North Korea on charges of spying, speaks in Pyongyang, North Korea. A South Korean government official confirmed Friday that the two are South Korean citizens but could not immediately explain how they entered the North and were detained. (AP Photo/Kim Kwang Hyon)

North Korea Sentences 2 South Koreans to Life on Spying Charges

Pictured above: Kim Kuk Gi, one of two South Korean men detained in North Korea on charges of spying, speaks in Pyongyang, North Korea. (AP Photo/Kim Kwang Hyon)

by the Associated Press


PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — North Korea’s Supreme Court on Tuesday sentenced two South Koreans to life in prison with labor after finding them guilty of spying for Seoul.

Kim Kuk-gi and Choe Chun-gil were convicted of state subversion and, under North Korean law, their sentences are final and cannot be appealed.

North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency said prosecutors had sought the death penalty. State media earlier said the two were detained last year for allegedly collecting confidential state information and attempting to spread a “bourgeois lifestyle and culture” in the North at the order of South Korea’s spy agency and the U.S.

Analysts saw the sentences as retaliation against South Korea for the opening Tuesday of a U.N. office in Seoul tasked with monitoring human rights in North Korea. The North has repeatedly called the office a grave provocation.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry expressed regret over the verdicts and urged North Korea to immediately release the men. South Korean officials have denied that the two men were involved in espionage.

Analysts say past detentions of South Koreans and Americans on spying charges were attempts by the impoverished North to wrest outside concessions. But Tuesday’s sentences may have been connected to the opening in Seoul of the U.N. office.

“North Korea thinks South Korea is applying pressure on Pyongyang with the U.N. office so it’s responding by (sentencing) these South Korean nationals,” said analyst Cheong Seong-chang at the private Sejong Institute think tank in South Korea.

South Korean officials said Monday that North Korea cited the new U.N. human rights office last week when it announced a decision to boycott next month’s University Games in South Korea.

The U.N. office, the first of its kind, was proposed in a ground-breaking U.N. commission of inquiry report last year on North Korea’s rights record.

North Korea dismisses any outside criticism of its human rights record as a U.S.-led campaign to overthrow its government.

The U.N. office’s opening is likely to worsen already-tense relations between the two Koreas with Pyongyang expected to ratchet up harsh rhetoric against Seoul, said Lim Eul Chul, a North Korea expert at South Korea’s Kyungnam University. He said things will get worse if North Korea believes that South Korea is providing the U.N. office with information on North Korean human rights and arranging interviews with high-profile defectors.

The two Koreas have been divided along the world’s most heavily fortified border since the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.


Associated Press writer Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul contributed to this report.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

subscribe button

Screen Shot 2015-06-22 at 11.35.02 AM

North Korea Blacklists Instagram

Pictured above: A screenshot of an Instagram photo of North Korean soldiers. (Photo via EverydayDPRK/Instagram)


by ERIC TALMADGE, Associated Press

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — Warnings are appearing on Instagram accounts in North Korea that say access to the popular photo-sharing app is being denied and that the site is blacklisted for harmful content.

Opening the app with mobile devices on the North Korean carrier Koryolink has resulted in a notification in English saying: “Warning! You can’t connect to this website because it’s in blacklist site.” A similar notice in Korean says the site contains harmful content, though that is not mentioned in the English version.

Such warnings have also appeared when websites that link to Instagram are accessed through desktops or laptops using LAN cables on the North Korean Internet provider. The warnings have been appearing on and off for at least five days.

The Internet and any kind of social media remain off-limits to virtually all North Koreans, but North Korea decided in 2013 to allow foreigners in the country to use 3G on their mobile phones, which generally require a local SIM card to get onto the Koryolink mobile carrier network.

That opened the door for them to surf the Internet and post to social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. More recently, even live-streaming video had been posted using the new Twitter app Periscope.

Photos from North Korea on Instagram posted by foreigners — though regular users are very few in number — provide a rare window on daily life in North Korea. But they have also posed a quandary for North Korean officials who are highly concerned about the flow of information and images in and out of the country.

Tech support staff at Koryolink said they were not aware of any changes in policy regarding Instagram. There has been no notice from the government or from the mobile phone service to its customers that Instagram has been blacklisted. Instagram officials had no comment when contacted by The Associated Press. Instagram is owned by Facebook, which is functioning normally in Pyongyang.

It was still possible to use the app, despite the warnings, on some mobile devices. But attempts on others to post photos or view user galleries through the standard Koryolink connection have been virtually impossible, suggesting that some access was indeed being obstructed.

It was unclear where the blockage was originating, how widespread it was, whether it was a hack of some sort or if it had any connection to a fire on June 11 at a luxury hotel often used by tourists and foreign visitors in Pyongyang. Photos of the fire leaked out of the country and were carried widely by media around the world. But the fire has not yet been reported by the North’s state-run media.

Besides Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites were also functioning normally. Other websites were viewable as usual even on mobile phones on which Instagram was not functioning.

It is estimated that more than 2 million North Koreans now use mobile phones, but with few exceptions they are not allowed to access the Internet, meaning the mobile service is available primarily to foreign visitors, residents and businesspeople in the country.

Andrea Lee, CEO of Uri Tours, which organizes tours to North Korea, said she was not aware of a policy shift toward blocking Instagram.

“We have been using Instagram to post photos from our (North Korea) tours since Koryolink, the local provider, announced that 3G SIM cards would be available to foreigners for purchase,” she said. “While I’m unaware of this recent shift in policy toward blocking Instagram, I hope this will be a temporary policy as it’s been a great tool for our company to show prospective travelers what our tours are like and to get people motivated in traveling there.”

She added that the SIM cards are priced more for the long-term frequent traveler, and usually tourists who are in the country for just a few days opt not to purchase them. “But those who do possess the SIM card have near open access to the web, including social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Google and many other sites that have historically been blocked in places like China.”

See Also


Photographer Aram Pan Presents a Different Angle to North Korea

Commentary: A Medical Mission to North Korea

North Korea Launches Online Shopping Site


Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


North Korean Defector Joseph Kim Shares His Story in Reddit AMA



After his father died due to starvation and his mother and sister left for China, Joseph Kim was left homeless as a child. He grew up learning to beg and even worked in a coal mine before he was finally able to escape to China himself at age 16, Kim recounts in a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) session on Thursday.

Kim has since resettled in Richmond, Va., where he calls home. He graduated high school and is currently a university student working towards a degree in international relations. He continues to work closely with Liberty in North Korea (LiNK), a nonprofit that helps with rescuing and resettling refugees as well as raising awareness about the North Korean people.

He recorded his experiences in his memoir, Under the Same Sky: From Starvation in North Korea to Salvation in America, which chronicles his will to survive through harsh conditions and dangers of getting caught by the Chinese authorities.

Earlier this year, Kim spoke at a UN panel with other defectors to share their personal stories about North Korea’s human rights violations. Having grown up in North Korea during the ’90s famine, Kim also shared his story in a 2013 TedTalk about building a life for himself in America.

Below are some highlights from Kim’s AMA session. Kim’s responses have been edited for length and clarity.

On what led him to leaving North Korea:


I didn’t see much hope to survive in North Korea much longer because, at this point, I had lived on the street as a homeless kid for about three years. I could die of starvation like my father did, or try to escape North Korea for a better life.

On whether the average North Korean believes in the regime’s propaganda:


Well, it’s hard to say. Yes and no. Because if you’re talking about nowadays North Koreans, it’s a little bit hard for me to say that a majority of North Koreans believe propaganda.

But I do think that older generations definitely believe in the government propaganda because in the 1970s, the North Koreans were economically better off than South Korea. After the 1990s famine, things have proven that North Korea is not the best country in the world, as the government or state claims. Because how can you accept the propaganda when your best friend dies of starvation?

So I think nowadays, more and more people are critical of government propaganda, but I can’t say what all North Koreans do now.

On what he thought the U.S. looked like before moving to the country:


I expected coming to America, thinking that I would end up in New York, with tall buildings, but I ended up going to Richmond, Va., where I realized that I was almost in the middle of a forest.

The next morning I woke up, there was a deer around. That was confusing for me because the America I had imagined was a big city, with really tall buildings. I thought I did something wrong to be put in some other place.

His thoughts on moving from China to the United States:


Definitely, the language and cultures were the biggest obstacles, but what really struck me was not knowing what to do with my life. That was the hardest because in North Korea, my daily dream was to find food and have enough food. In some sense, food was the entire dream for me.

But coming to America, I think the food was provided, so in that sense, my dream was already achieved. So I didn’t really know what to look for afterwards. And a lot of people told me I had freedom to do everything, but nobody explained to me what freedom meant. So, I had to figure that out on my own. I think meeting new friends, and talking to older people, helped me.

What he believes has yet to be revealed about North Korea:


A lot. I mean, especially in the Western media. So much political conflicts and issues. Just about the leader.

But I think what we are really missing is that because of heavy subjects, we tend to forget that there are people like myself who have hopes and dreams for a better life. And people who want to be happy. But because of all those heavy subjects, I think we sometimes don’t get to see the average North Korean, and you can’t really connect or relate to them because of heavy subjects.

On pursuing a degree in international relations:


Studying for undergraduate, it can only give you some tools. But I don’t think I have the solution to make a better place for North Korea overnight. What I believe is that education will help me to be empowered and overcome those issues one day. But as of now, I don’t see much hope. One thing I can do is help make sure that we are prepared for ex-North Korea someday, with education.


On North Korean culture aspects he misses and learning what freedom meant:


That’s a bit of a tough question. I think one thing that I kind of miss is that back in North Korea, before the economic collapse, there was much more communal sharing. And I feel like everyone was really sharing with each other. I think North Koreans used to be more communal and family-oriented, celebrating the holidays together

When I was in China, I was offered to come to the U.S., and I said “no” because I was told that in North Korea, the U.S. is our enemy state and we have to destroy it someday. I asked [my pastor], “Why should I go to America?” and he said I could continue my education and have freedom. [The latter part] didn’t catch my ear because I knew what freedom was. But until he was elaborating what freedom was—[he said] I could go outside anytime I wanted to go out. When I was in China, I was hiding and stayed in an apartment for long [periods], so going outside was something luxurious. That was a real turning point for me.


You can read Joseph Kim’s full Reddit AMA here. You can also purchase his memoir Under the Same Sky through the LiNK Shop, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

See Also

North Korean Defector Joo Yang Shares Eye-Opening Tales In Reddit AMA

DocKim Shares How He Escaped North Korea in the 1950s


Featured image courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

subscribe button