Tag Archives: North Korea


6 Facts About North Korean Weddings

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

In a weekly NK News column, a North Korean defector recently answered a reader’s question about the traditions of North Korean weddings. Here are five things we’ve learned about tying the knot in the hermit kingdom.

1. Here comes the bride dressed in hanbok

wedding-1(Photo via Koryo Group)

While many South Koreans follow the Western wedding dress code of white gowns and tuxes, North Korean weddings are similar to the ceremonies you see on historical Korean dramas. Brides wear hanboks, or traditional Korean garb. Some hanboks are white with colorful embroidered flowers, while others are a combination of bright pink, red and yellow.

2. Live chickens on the altar

Hochzeit_Chicken(Photo courtesy of Asien-Zuhouse)

Traditional Korean wedding ceremonies require a live hen and rooster wrapped in red and blue cloths to be set on a ceremonial table. Although most South Koreans now hold Western-style weddings, North Koreans still follow this old tradition. During the ceremony, guests place flowers and dates into the the hen’s beak. Meanwhile, the rooster’s beak gets stuffed with red chili.


3. You can’t walk down the aisle on Feb. 16 and April 15

800px-Mansudae_Grand_Monument_08(Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

Most North Koreans choose to wed on weekends, national holidays or after-work hours. However, couples are forbidden from getting married on the birthdays of late North Korean leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, which are on April 15 and Feb. 16, respectively.


4. North Korean elites go big on their weddings

An average North Korean wedding is usually a small and utilitarian event that’s held at the bride’s home, but North Korean elites tend to throw weddings in hotel ballrooms or VIP lounges. “The more, the merrier” is the golden rule for these fancy weddings since the number of guests represents the couple’s social standing. Distinguished guests often give grooms a watch as a wedding gift.


5. Bouquets for Kim Il-sung

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North Korean bridesmaids don’t have to fight when it comes to catching the bouquet. After the ceremony, the bride and groom visit the statue of Kim Il-sung to bestow it flowers. Many couples also take their wedding photos at the monument out of a sense of obligation.


6. No honeymoons

jeju island(Photo via Beauty Scenery)

Most South Korean and American couples travel abroad after their wedding, but there is no such thing as a honeymoon in North Korea. Newlyweds in the isolated country are expected to return to work the day after their wedding.

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Featured image courtesy of Clay Gilliland/Flickr

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North Korea Airs Video of Detained Canadian Pastor Confessing to Crimes

by ALEX HYUN | @ahyundarkb4dawn

North Korea on Monday released a video footage of a detained Korean Canadian pastor purportedly confessing before a Pyongyang church congregation that he had committed crimes against the state, reports Reuters.

Rev. Hyeon-soo Lim, head of the 3,000-member Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Toronto, entered North Korea last January for a routine humanitarian visit. Since 1997, the 60-year-old pastor has traveled to the isolated state more than 100 times and oversees a nursing home and orphanage there, according to his church. In March, North Korea notified the Canadian government of Lim’s detainment.

Nearly six months after his detainment, Lim made his first public appearance at a July 30 news conference, where he confessed to illegally entering the capital, violating the country’s Ebola quarantine policy and conducting “subversive plots” to overthrow the North Koran government.

On Aug. 2, Lim made another public appearance at Pyongyang’s Bongsu Church, one of the capital’s few state-operated churches that is often used for propaganda purposes. According to Voice of America, Lim provided the names of pastors in the United States and South Korea who have been involved with attempting to overturn the North Korean government.

“The worst crime I committed was to rashly defame and insult the highest dignity and the system of the republic,” Lim said as he read from what appeared to be a script.

The video of his confession was initially posted on Uriminzokkiri, a state-run propaganda website.

South Korean and Western media outlets have accused North Korea of forcing the pastor to make a false confession. However, Pyongyang denied these allegations on Tuesday, claiming that foreign media were “spreading misinformation.”

While Lim is currently making headlines, he is certainly not the first North American detainee forced to confess to crimes against North Korea.

Last April, Korean American humanitarian worker Sandra Suh was deported after she reportedly spread anti-North Korean propaganda, according to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

In 2010, Canada suspended diplomatic relations with Pyongyang. However, the country’s department of foreign affairs said that it is very concerned for Lim’s well-being, saying that it’s making efforts to negotiate his release, reported CNN.

You can watch the entire recording of the Lim’s news conference below:

See Also


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In this April 9, 2015 photo, a journalist sits near the North Korean cargo ship Mu Du Bong, anchored in the port of Tuxpan, Mexico, after it accidentally ran aground off Mexico in July 2014. Despite North Korea's protests, a panel of experts that monitors U.N. sanctions against Pyongyang for its nuclear and missile programs asked the Mexican government not to release the boat. North Korean diplomats have said the ship was carrying nothing prohibited by sanctions. (AP Photo/Felix Marquez)

North Korean Ship Held in Mexico Pursued for Seizure in Case

In this April 9, 2015 photo, a journalist sits near the North Korean cargo ship Mu Du Bong, anchored in the port of Tuxpan, Mexico, after it accidentally ran aground off Mexico in July 2014. Despite North Korea’s protests, a panel of experts that monitors U.N. sanctions against Pyongyang for its nuclear and missile programs asked the Mexican government not to release the boat. North Korean diplomats have said the ship was carrying nothing prohibited by sanctions. (Photo courtesy of Felix Marquez/AP Photo)


by CARA ANNA, Associated Press

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Winning a lawsuit against North Korea is rare. Collecting millions of dollars in damages from the isolated country? Pretty much impossible. But an Israel-based civil rights group thinks it has found a way, starting with a North Korean ship that’s been held, against Pyongyang’s wishes, in a Mexican port for the past year.

The effort illustrates the challenges of holding North Korea to account in more ways than one.

The Shurat HaDin law center began its pursuit after winning a $330 million U.S. District Court judgment in April over the abduction of a South Korean-born pastor in China and his presumed torture and killing in North Korea 15 years ago. Now the center is aiming for whatever North Korean assets it can find.

It has focused on the Mu Du Bong, a cargo ship that accidentally ran aground off Mexico last July. Despite NorthKorea’s protests, a panel of experts that monitors U.N. sanctions against Pyongyang for its nuclear and missile programs asked the Mexican government not to release it.

The ship’s North Korean parent company, Ocean Maritime Management Co., has been under sanctions ever since another ship it operated was found to be carrying two Cuban fighter jets, missile and live munitions hidden under a cargo of sugar.

Seizing the Mu Du Bong requires that a Mexican court recognize the U.S. court’s judgment. Civil courts in Mexico City and in the state of Veracruz have declined to hear Shurat HaDin’s request, but it is now appealing.

The plan is to sell the ship to the highest bidder, with the money going to the South Korean pastor’s family.

“There are so few North Korean assets around the world that an opportunity like this, to seize the boat, should not be allowed to simply slip away out of fear of North Korea or other political consideration,” Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, Shurat HaDin’s director, told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

Shurat HaDin is known for suing states such as Iran and Syria on behalf of victims of torture or terrorism, aiming for bad publicity for those governments even if it can’t get them to pay.

North Korea has never admitted the abduction and torture of the pastor, U.S. resident Kim Dong Shik. Pyongyang has been known to respond harshly to people who try to promote religion, even among the thousands of North Koreans who have fled to neighboring China.

Normally, foreign states can’t be sued in the United States, but an exception in the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act allows it against countries that are listed as state sponsors of terrorism. Shurat HaDin filed suit over Kim’s disappearance just one day before the George W. Bush administration removed North Korea from that list.

The removal has complicated efforts to collect damages from Pyongyang, including by accessing the millions of dollars of its money still thought to be frozen in several U.S. banks. As of 2008, the last year the U.S. Treasury reported it, $34 million of North Korean money remained in U.S. banks. A Treasury spokeswoman didn’t comment.

Even if a suit is won, collecting money from Pyongyang is extremely difficult.

In 2010, Shurat HaDin won $378 million in a U.S. court against North Korea over the killing of Americans at an Israeli airport in 1972, but it was unable to collect.

In 2008, attorney Richard Streeter received a $65 million judgment on behalf of U.S. Navy crewmen held captive for nearly a year by North Korea in 1968. The former crewmen have never collected any money.

“Let me know if they get anything,” Streeter said of the latest case.

Pursuing assets is often hampered by the U.S. government because of real or perceived conflicts with its political goals, said Jeffrey Addicott, director of the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary’s University. “If a nation does something adverse to another nation, the fear is that the harmed nation may retaliate in a way that produces a great deal of mischief,” he said in an email. “Particularly true when dealing with totalitarian states.”

There has been no comment on the attempt to seize the cargo ship from North Korea’s mission to the U.N., which has said Mexico “forcibly detained” it under U.S. pressure. North Korean diplomats have said the ship was carrying nothing prohibited by sanctions.

The head of the U.N. panel of experts, Hugh Griffiths, did not comment. But a former panel member, former U.S. official William Newcomb, said U.N. permission isn’t needed for Mexico to allow Shurat HaDin to seize the ship.

“I think the Security Council will be happy if the ship does not go back to North Korean hands,” Mexican lawyer Alberto Mansur, who has helped with the court filing, told the AP.


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

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Two Koreas, U.S. Celebrate Anniversary of Korean War Armistice


North and South Korea on Monday commemorated the 62nd anniversary of the Korean Armistice Agreement, with colorful celebrations that mirrored each side’s political stances. The United States also observed the anniversary with a presidential proclamation that officially marked July 27 as National Korean War Veterans Armistice Day.

Early Monday, Seoul hosted a ceremony with Korean War veterans, active-duty soldiers, government officials and citizens. Descendants of United Nations soldiers carried their national flags and colorful signs at the event.

descendants(Photo via Yonhap)

In his commemorative speech, Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn promised veterans that South Korea will do its best to honor the spirits of their fallen comrades.

“South Korea’s economic development was something unimaginable when the cease-fire was signed. Your noble sacrifices made the foundation for Korea’s advancements,” said Hwang, according to the Korea Herald. “The Republic of Korea government and our citizens will do our best to honor your sacrifices.”

The U.N. Command also held a separate ceremony at the inter-Korean truce village of Panmunjeon later in the day.

In Washington, three U.S. House Representatives introduced a resolution on the anniversary to formally end the Korean War on behalf of Korean veterans who seek closure, according to Yonhap News Agency.

“It has been 65 years since the start of this war, yet there is lingering pain because it has never officially ended,” said U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), the lead sponsor of the resolution. “The best thing we can do to honor the sacrifices of the Korean War veterans and the Korean people is to help bring about final closure to this painful chapter in history and help efforts to unite the divided Peninsula.”

Rangel was joined by fellow sponsors Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX) and Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-MI) when the announcement was made.

With the new resolution, the House aims to call “upon the international community to support the vision of a unified Korea and assist efforts to promote international peace and security, denuclearization, economic prosperity, human rights, and the rule of law both on the Korean Peninsula and elsewhere.”

Meanwhile in North Korea, the anniversary of the armistice agreement was hailed as “Victory Day” over the U.S. troops and its U.N. allies, according to the Associated Press.

“Gone forever is the era when the United States blackmailed us with nukes; now the United States is no longer a source of threat and fear for us and we are the very source of fear for it,” Kim Jong Un said in a televised speech.

AP also reported that Korean People’s Army Gen. Pak Yong Sik attended a meeting held Sunday with officials in Pyongyang and said: “The past Korean War brought about the beginning of the downhill turn for the U.S., but the second Korean war will bring the final ruin to U.S. imperialism.”

He added that if the U.S. provokes war, then North Korea will be ready to fight until “there would be no one left to sign a surrender document.”

Despite the conflict spanning multiple decades with North Korea, U.S. representatives hope their resolution passes.

“As veterans of the Korean War, we put forward this resolution to honor those who have suffered over the last 70 years and to present a vision for peaceful reunification under principles of human rights, rule of law, denuclearization, and economic cooperation,” Conyers said, Yonhap reported.


Featured image by Austin Kirk/Flickr

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Across the DMZ: A Reunion Tale Retold on Audio

Pictured above: Imjingang Railroad Bridge, 2014. (Photo courtesy of Jeon Han/Korea.net)

Special to iamKoreAm.com

It’s been more than 60 years since Korea officially separated into two states.

Politics split the nation, but it was the people who ended up paying the price. Families were splintered by the Korean War and generations of Korean sons and daughters went on to live their lives never knowing whether their blood relatives beyond the DMZ still existed.

However, in 2005, a rare opportunity arose when the Red Cross tried to reunite some of these separated families through satellite video—if only for a brief two hours.

Mary Chi-Whi Kim, a poet, writer and professor at Savannah College of Art and Design, wrote a piece for the New York Times Magazine in 2006 recounting the experience of meeting her aunt, Bo Ok, for the first time this way.

Bo Ok is Mary’s father’s older sister, and the firstborn in the family. Bo Ok had headed north before the Korean War to pursue an expanded education, the article states. Mary’s father had not seen his sister since he was 14 and a boy living in South Korea.

It’s been seven years since the article, “Far Across the DMZ,” was published in the Times, but NPR’s Snap Judgment—a weekly non-fiction storytelling radio series and podcast—recently adapted the family reunion tale into an audio narrative.

“We don’t normally do these kinds of stories because Snap Judgment is a storytelling show that features a beginning, middle and end,” producer Davey Kim told KoreAm in a phone interview. “This story didn’t have all of those components, but it still resonated with me about what it’s like to have a family reunion five decades down the line, and I took this on as a side experimental story because it deviates from our usual material.”

The 15-minute segment, which first aired July 10 on NPR’s 300 member stations across the country, recounts the video reunion between Mary’s father, Chin Kyll, and Bo Ok. While it sounds as if Mary herself provides narration, her voiceover is actually taken from an extended interview with Kim.

“Mary Kim did a fantastic job and it sounds like she was narrating the story,” said Davey Kim. “But in actuality, I interviewed her for four hours and I cut those four hours of interview tape into the narrative.”

Mary discusses how her aunt appears on video, what she says about the North Korean regime, how her father had read a letter to his sister which he prepared beforehand, and Mary’s own realizations as an adult listening to her Korean immigrant father pour forth his emotions and memories to his sister.

Her aunt, Mary says in the segment, does not look as she expected her to look.

She is seen on video wearing 12 military medals on her black hanbok and had “plump cheeks,” much to Mary’s surprise.

“I had no idea how she might appear” she says. “I expected to see a living skeleton because of North Korea’s tendency to starve its own people.”

The segment, which features interspersions of Korean spoken by the character of Chin Kyll (voiced by Davey’s Father, Yongnam Kim), includes the episode where Mary’s father reads a six-page letter to his sister, describing his family’s life in the United States. In real life, that moment had lasted for an hour and a half—or 75 percent of the time allotted for the occasion.

Mary recounts how her father unleashes 50 years of repressed feelings regarding his separation from Bo Ok, sharing painful memories he had stored inside him all these years.

In response, Mary recounts, her aunt speaks only flattering words about the North Korean leadership and discusses her disdain for the United States. Bo Ok reveals how her leg was severed by a bomb during the war while her husband’s legs were injured and had to be amputated. Despite this, her aunt describes how the North Korean government had aided her own family, five children in all.

“We don’t have many years left now. All I want is to see our country unified…But we need to kick out the American bastards, then finally, we can meet and live happily together,” Bo Ok, voiced by Davey Kim’s mother, Mikyung Kim, says. “Such a good life in this socialist community wouldn’t exist in a capitalist nation.”

“I couldn’t tell if she was believing her own words,” Mary says, as she recounts seeing Bo Ok’s eldest son seated beside her, with cheeks resembling “cliff-like hollows.”

With time quickly running out from their reunion, Chin Kyll proposes that he and his sister sing a song over the satellite feed: Tong Il Jang, or “We Are One,” a composition created by South Koreans to meld the national anthems of both Koreas.

During the song, time unfortunately runs out on the satellite feed and the siblings’ reunion ends as the computer screen fades to black.

Ten years have passed since that video reunion with Bo Ok. While her father is not as hopeful in his sister’s fate, fearing that she may have met her end, Mary harbors a different sentiment. She still clings to the hope that her aunt is alive, and that one day, the family will reunite, despite the long odds.

“The reality is that many Koreans on both sides of the DMZ unfortunately will not be reunited in this lifetime,” Davey Kim said. “There are certainly cases where families have reunited and have gone on to live good lives but the reality is that this isn’t the case for everyone—this is the universal Korean story that I wanted to tell.”

To listen to the Snap Judgment segment in its entirety, click here.

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North Korea Bans Foreign Envoys from Owning Media Critical of Kim Jong-un

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

Well, I guess The Interview is out of the question.

Foreign diplomats are no longer allowed to possess any media content critical of Kim Jong-un or the North Korean regime, according to a new ordinance.

UPI reported on Tuesday that any content considered to be slanderous to Pyongyang—including photographs, movies and literature saved on mobile phones, memory sticks or computers—will be forbidden from being kept at foreign embassies and international organizations.

The United Kingdom’s Foreign Office denounced the ban as a violation of international standards of human rights. North Korea’s ordinance, which was issued on June 26, came shortly after the U.K. report on human rights and democracy, which had classified North Korea as a “human rights concern” for reasons including its ban on the freedom of expression.

North Korea is notorious for its censorship. Last year, the Freedom House gave the country a press freedom score of 97, with 100 being the worst possible score.

North Korea also briefly banned Instagram for week in late June, with warnings appearing in English and Korean that the social media platform had been put on the blacklist for harmful content. While almost no North Koreans have free access to the Internet, foreigners can access social media by using 3G on their mobile devices through the country’s local carrier, Koryolink.

Compared to the rest of the North Korean population, foreign diplomats in Pyongyang live in relative comfort. However, the latest ban adds to an already long list of inconveniences, including frequent blackouts due to power shortages.

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Featured image via Reuters

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North Korea Gig Fits Well With Iconic Slovenian Band’s Image

Pictured above: Slovenian avant-garde music group Laibach (Photo courtesy of Laibach/Wikimedia Commons)

by ALI ZERDIN, Associated Press

LJUBLJANA, Slovenia (AP) — For a band inspired by art in totalitarian regimes, a gig in North Korea is a dream come true.

Slovenia’s iconic Laibach—whose music is described as a mixture of industrial rock and Kraftwerk-style electronics, but which is also known for its controversial use of authoritarian imagery—has recently announced it will play two concerts in Pyongyang next month.

The tour will coincide with the ceremonies marking the 70th anniversary of the Korean peninsula’s liberation from Japanese colonization, and will include Laibach’s own music as well as popular Korean songs, spokesman Ivan Novak told the Associated Press.

“Originally, we invited ourselves and then they invited us,” Novak said.

Formed in 1980, when Slovenia was still part of Communist-run Yugoslavia, Laibach immediately stirred controversy with its name — German for Slovenia’s capital city Ljubljana — and because it used a black cross as one of its symbols.

This alone was enough for an official ban by the regime born out of anti-fascist struggle during World War II, which formally came into force in 1983 after Laibach locked the door of a concert hall and played the sound of a dog barking extremely loudly for almost half an hour.

For the next few years, Laibach moved abroad. The group’s visual style included wearing military uniforms on stage and toying with Socialist-era imagery while playing almost martial-style songs, sung in a husky, deep voice.

Despite being criticized as too dark, the band has always insisted that it is in fact exploring the relation between ideology, politics and art. One of its main slogans states that “art and totalitarianism do not exclude each other.”

Over the years, Laibach has gained an important place on Slovenia’s art scene — the band’s retrospective currently is part of an exhibition of the Neue Slowenishe Kunst (New Slovenian Art) movement at the Modern Gallery in Ljubljana.

Novak said the band has always wanted to visit North Korea and remembers clearly the visit in 1977 to the country by then Yugoslav communist leader Josip Broz Tito. Novak rejected the possibility that the trip will amount to political support for the North Korean communist regime — viewed as an isolationist dictatorship in the West.

“We never support the regime anywhere where we perform … but we do support the people who live there,” Novak said. He explained that the band has found inspiration for its art in North Korea’s “big stadium events, with their human pixels for instance.”

“All Korea is practicing superb pop art. Superb,” he insisted. “From the point of view of art history, they should actually protect the whole country, they should put it in a museum of pop art.”

Laibach concerts on Aug. 19-20 are planned for an audience of 1,000 each time. Several pop singers and bands from South Korea have performed in the north in the past, while British singer David Thomas Broughton has said he performed once for expats in North Korea. Laibach’s performance, however, will mark the first encounter with a visually charged band from the West.

“We will adjust and adapt our program to the Korean situation and audience,” Novak said. “We will perform a gentle version of Laibach,”


Jovana Gec contributed from Belgrade, Serbia; Kim, Tong-hyung and Kim, Hyung-jin contributed from Seoul, SouthKorea.

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

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North Korea Not Interested in Iran-Style Nuclear Deal

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

North Korea on Tuesday said it is not interested in making a denuclearization deal like the one Iran forged with the United States and five other world powers last week, claiming that its situation is “quite different” from that of Iran.

According to the Wall Street Journal, a spokesman for North Korea’s foreign ministry said that the isolated country has no interest in freezing or dismantling its nuclear program unilaterally. He added that Pyongyang will continue to develop nuclear weapons as long as “the U.S. continues pursuing its hostile policy” towards the country. 

Diplomats from the U.S. and South Korea have previously tried to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program, but disarmament talks have stalled since late 2008. In May, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry claimed that North Korea was “not even close” to taking the steps needed to restart negotiations on reducing its nuclear capabilities.

North Korea and Iran have been allies since the establishment of the Islamic Republic following the 1979 revolution, according to the WSJ. Both countries have faced international sanctions that have crippled their economies. With the newly-minted Iran deal, economic sanctions on Iran are lifted as long as the country agrees to long-term limits on its nuclear program, such as significantly reducing its supplies of low-enriched uranium.

Since the Iran deal, some policymakers have wondered if Washington could make a similar pact with Pyongyang.

U.S. Under Secretary of Political Affairs Wendy Sherman said at a press conference last week that the Iran deal “might give North Korea second thoughts about the very dangerous path that it is currently pursuing.” China’s Foreign Minister also expressed the same hope, claiming that the deal could serve as a “positive reference” for restarting denuclearization talks with Pyongyang.

However, all hope for renewed negotiations was quashed with North Korea’s statement on Tuesday.

“We are clearly a nuclear power and nuclear powers have their own interests,” the statement said, according to Reuters.

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Featured image captured via NBC News (screenshot)

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