Tag Archives: North Korea


North Korea Reports 99.97% Turnout in Local Elections

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

North Korea held local elections on Sunday to decide its provincial governors, with the official voter turnout recorded at 99.97 percent, the Korean Central News Agency reported. However, voters did not mark their ballots, as all candidates were already pre-selected by the government.

Voting is compulsory for all North Korean citizens over the age of 17. Since candidates usually run uncontested, voters only have to deposit their ballot slips into a ballot box to show their support for their soon-to-be provincial representatives. Failure to make an appearance at the polls is considered tantamount to treason.

Only those who were overseas were unable to participate in the elections, KCNA reported. It added that the elderly and ill who were unable to visit polling stations participated in the elections votes via “mobile ballot boxes.” North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un also cast his vote in Pyongyang over the weekend.

According to CNN, the North Korean elections are seen as an unofficial census to ensure that all citizens are where they’re supposed to be.

Since 1999, North Korea’s local elections have been held every four years. The number of seats is determined by each district’s population. During each four-year term, elected deputies convene once or twice a year to set their provinces’ budgets and endorse leaders appointed by the ruling party.

Earlier this month, South Korean intelligence officials claimed that about 70 North Korean officials have been executed since Kim Jong-un rose to power.


Featured image via Yonhap News Agency

subscribe button


DPRK 360

Watch the First 360-Degree Video Shot in North Korea

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim

Singaporean photographer Aram Pan has captured a number of fascinating images of North Korea since making his first trip to the country in 2013. He initially began photographing the hermit kingdom to quench his personal curiosity, but soon the project expanded into something greater.

Pan’s photography project DPRK 360 focuses on engaging North Koreans in a positive, friendly and non-political manner. With every subsequent visit, Pan has been allowed even more freedom to explore North Korea. He’s captured North Korean women’s fashion shows, couples publicly showing affection and locals working in the countryside in photos, videos and even 360-degree panoramas.

During his latest visit in June through Young Pioneer Tours, Pan brought along a new toy: a super-wide angle Entaniya Fisheye Lens from Entapano. The result is the world’s first 360-degree video entirely shot in North Korea. The 19-minute video includes footage of North Koreans studying in a classroom, tourists walking to the Tumen River, Pan chatting with locals and glimpses of North Korean landscapes.

What’s really cool is that viewers can “look around.” If you’re viewing the video through a mobile device (must install the latest YouTube app), you can move your phone as a lens to view the scenery, or use your fingers to adjust what you see. Computer users (must have the latest HTML5 capable browser) can click and drag to adjust the view, or use the WASD keys.

However, the video is quite heavy on memory usage and the Internet, so your best experience will be on capable mobile devices and computers with a decent Wi-Fi connection. The video is also compatible with VR headsets, just in case any of our readers own a pair.

You can watch the video below. Pan was excited to share the video with our readers, telling KoreAm, “I think everyone will be geeked out.”

Pan’s work will be included in a photo exhibition at the upcoming “Desire to Unify” event in Seoul from September 23 to 25. He recently spoke at the inauguration ceremony, sharing his approach and mindset in reaching out to North Koreans.

“[The North Koreans] are beginning to understand what I’m trying to do,” Pan told KoreAm in an interview back in November 2014. “I merely want to try to understand what they are all about. I believe that over time, they will show me more and more stuff about what it means to be North Korean.

“I strongly believe that what I’m doing is paving the way for a peaceful option for them to open up to the world. The results won’t be immediate, but let’s take it one step at a time.”

See Also


Photographer Aram Pan Presents a Different Angle to North Korea

Uri Tours Focuses on North Korea Tourism


subscribe button

View from North to South

North Korean Soldiers Briefly Cross DMZ

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

About 10 North Korean soldiers crossed the military border into South Korea near Cheorwon, Gangwon Province on Saturday morning, but retreated immediately after the South fired warning shots, reported Yonhap News Agency.

According to South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense, the South Korean military warned the North Korean soldiers via speakers to not approach any further after they had crossed the Military Demarcation Line (MDL). Although the North Korean soldiers were armed, they retreated after the South fired warning shots and did not return fire.

This is the first time in 2015 that South Korea has fired warning shots at the heavily armed border. Last October, tensions on the border flared when North Korea shot down anti-Pyongyang propaganda balloons launched by South Korean activists. The South responded by firing 40 rounds of machine guns. At the time, there were no reports of damage or injury. 

Authorities are still investigating what may have prompted the North Korean soldiers from intrude the border. One source told the Joongang Ilbo that there have been signs of the North Korean army increasing reconnaissance and patrols along the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).

The brief intrusion came on the same day North Korea officially announced Pak Yong-sik as its new defense minister. South Korea’s National Intelligence Service told lawmakers in May that Pak’s predecessor, Hyon Yong-chol, was executed for complaining about Kim Jong-un’s policies and sleeping during a meeting. While North Korea’s state media officially confirmed Hyon’s replacement, it did not verify Hyon’s execution.

See Also


North Korean Soldier Crosses DMZ to Defect to South

Kim Jong-un Has Executed 70 Officials: Seoul


Featured image via Wikimedia Commons

subscribe button



kim jongun

Kim Jong-un Has Executed 70 Officials: Seoul

by KIM TONG-HYUNG, Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Young North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has executed 70 officials since taking power in late 2011 in a “reign of terror” that far exceeds the bloodshed of his dictator father’s early rule, South Korean officials said Thursday.

South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se, at a forum in Seoul, compared Kim Jong Un’s 70 executions with those of his late father, Kim Jong Il, who he said executed about 10 officials during his first years in power.

An official from South Korea’s National Intelligence Service, who refused to be named, citing office rules, confirmed that the spy agency believes the younger Kim has executed about 70 officials but wouldn’t reveal how it obtained the information.

Yun also said that the younger Kim’s “reign of terror affects significantly” North Koreans working overseas by inspiring them to defect to the South, but he also didn’t reveal how he got the details.

North Korea, an authoritarian nation ruled by the Kim family since its founding in 1948, is secretive about its government’s inner workings, and information collected by outsiders is often impossible to confirm.

High-level government purges have a long history in North Korea.

To strengthen his power, Kim Jong-un’s grandfather, North Korea founder Kim Il-sung, removed pro-Soviet and pro-Chinese factions within the senior leadership in the years after the 1950-53 Korean War. The high-ranking victims included Pak Hon-yong, formerly the vice chairman of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea and the country’s foreign minister, who was executed in 1955 after being accused of spying for the United States.

Kim Jong-un has also removed key members of the old guard through a series of purges since taking over after the death of Kim Jong-il. The most spectacular purge to date was the 2013 execution of his uncle, Jang Song-thaek, for alleged treason. Jang was married to Kim Jong Il’s sister and was once considered the second most powerful man in North Korea.

South Korea’s spy agency told lawmakers in May that Kim ordered his then-defense chief Hyon Yong-chol executed with an anti-aircraft gun for complaining about the young ruler, talking back to him and sleeping during a meeting.

Experts say Kim could be using fear to solidify his leadership, but those efforts could fail if he doesn’t improve the country’s shattered economy.


Featured image via Yonhap News Agency

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

subscribe button

north korean sign language

German Man Attempts to Empower Deaf North Koreans

Pictured above: North Korean students study sign language. (Photo via Agape International North Korea)

by ERIC TALMADGE, Associated Press

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — In a country with zero kindergartens specifically for the deaf, Robert Grund wants to help establish the first — just a small suite of rooms for perhaps a couple dozen kids, in North Korea’s capital, Pyongyang, a city of roughly 2.5 million.

It’s a small step, but Grund, the Pyongyang representative of the World Federation of the Deaf and the city’s only full-time deaf foreign resident, sees it as part of a larger push to end isolation for the deaf here by helping them be heard, involved and empowered in projects about them.

He appears to be making progress.

Over the past few years, North Korean officials have grown more receptive to helping the disabled. Events have become more frequent and get a higher profile in the state-run media, while more cultural exchanges are being allowed abroad. Recent media stories played up a new all-deaf soccer team. The North last month held high-profile events to mark Disabled Persons Day.

The kindergarten project is also coming together.

Grund says officials have approved a location for the facility, several rooms in a now under-used nursery building, and appear keen on opening it in time for the 70th anniversary of the founding of the country’s ruling party on Oct. 10.

The kindergarten itself will be wholly paid for and funded by TOGETHER-Hamhung, a German non-profit Disabled Persons Organization.

“Nobody knows how many kids will come,” Grund said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. “If necessary, we can assign more rooms for children.”

The plan is to accept children from infancy on up until they are old enough to attend regular deaf schools. Grund hopes access will be based solely on need, but he is not sure whether the government will instead decide who gets to go.

“From our point of view, every deaf child has access,” he said. “Since this country strongly advertises the right of children to be in nurseries and kindergartens, it is probably not so much a matter of choosing, but a matter of information and spreading the word so that the families get to know the new option and dare to bring their deaf child, overcoming the traditional hiding in the family.”

To be deaf in North Korea is to endure a level of isolation that is hard to imagine.


For most of his childhood, Ri Jong-hyok was a shut in.

While his father went out to do construction work, he stayed at home in Pyongyang helping his mother make tofu. He didn’t go to school. He had no friends and, with no one to teach him sign language, essentially no way to communicate with them even if he did.

“I had never seen sign language before I came here,” Ri told the AP through a sign language interpreter during a visit to the country’s largest school for the deaf, in Songchon, outside of Pyongyang, last year.

Ri is lucky to have found the school.

He wants to be a barber, and the school has a classroom where the students practice cutting each other’s hair, with barber’s chairs and pictures of various hairstyles on the walls. With few other trades open to the deaf, the most common jobs are barber or tailor for men, and hairstylist or seamstress for women.

Of the eight schools for older deaf children in North Korea, none are located in Pyongyang, though statistically the deaf population in a city the same size in a developing country would likely be in the tens of thousands.

There are roughly 300,000 deaf people in all of North Korea, according to official estimates.

But while about 10-20 percent of deaf children in developing countries are able to study in deaf schools, according to the World Federation of the Deaf, that rate is just 2 percent in North Korea, said an aid worker who spoke on condition of anonymity because of worries that ongoing projects might be hurt.

North Korean officials dispute that estimate.

Ro Kyong-su, director of the Korean Economic and Cultural Center for the Deaf and Blind, said mainstream public schools or other special-needs facilities currently accommodate most deaf or hearing-impaired students. By his calculations, there are about 6,000 school-age deaf children who need to be in schools that are specifically for the deaf. He said about half already are, and the number is rising.

“The other half will soon be able to go to school. We aren’t looking at a five-year or 10-year plan. It will be much sooner than that,” he said.

Officials involved in projects for the deaf acknowledge an outdated grasp of the size of the deaf community.

A major problem continues to be getting access to and diagnosing pre-school children, many of whom are shut in at home with families who have little awareness of hearing disabilities or the resources that might be available to them.

The government’s figures are also based on an old, somewhat ambiguous survey. Underreporting of disabilities is common, both because of a sense of shame and a fear among parents that, if reported, their children might be sent off to distant institutions, pigeonholed and channeled into an educational or career path with few opportunities. Nevertheless, a new survey is underway, which Ro believes will provide a more reliable picture.

Changing North Korea’s attitude toward the deaf


Grund, possibly more than anyone else, has helped influence the change in attitudes toward the deaf here.

As a teenager, he watched a TV report in his native Germany suggesting there were “practically no” deaf people in North Korea. A fourth-generation deaf child in his own family, an incredulous Grund decided to go see for himself. Grund, now 30, has since devoted himself to improving life for deaf North Koreans. He works with the bureaucracy and with the deaf to train them to plan and lead their own projects.

Though funding is always a struggle, he has received support from Catholic and Protestant groups and private donors, mainly in Germany. The biggest individual contribution came from Michael Spavor, of Paektu Cultural Exchange and the organizer of former NBA star Dennis Rodman’s visit last year, who donated $20,000 to the deaf kindergarten project.

Grund’s mantra for empowering the deaf, “nothing about us without us,” often rankles with even the most sympathetic North Korean officials. In the country’s top-down system, hearing bureaucrats who often don’t understand the deaf experience are used to making decisions on their behalf.

Grund says he will continue to cooperate with deaf North Koreans—he currently works closely with about 20, up from just two in 2013 — to help them join mainstream society.

One priority is more schools for occupational training and educational opportunities for the deaf. Another is teaching more deaf children—and interpreters—how to sign. He also wants sign language interpretation made available at workplaces and meetings. But most of all, he wants to see signing on national television broadcasts, if just to raise awareness in the hearing community that the deaf exist and need not be hidden away.

“That has been my oldest dream, from the time I first came here,” he said.

See Also


South Korea’s Kim Ye-Jin Wins Miss Deaf International 2014

Korean Son of Deaf Parents With Cancer Sings Heartfelt Song on ‘Superstar K6

Kam Redlawsk: When You Have a Disability, What Happens to Your Sex Life?


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

subscribe button

Screen Shot 2015-07-07 at 5.58.37 PM

‘Northern Limit Line’ Sets Sail for USA and Australia

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

South Korea’s 3D maritime film Northern Limit Line will hit theaters in North America and Australia later this month, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Based on a true story, Northern Limit Line depicts the Second Battle of Yeonpyeong between North and South Korean patrol boats. The battle occurred during the 2002 FIFA World Cup when South Korea’s national soccer team was playing against Turkey in the semifinals.

Starting July 16, the maritime action flick is set to release in seven Australian cities: Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth. The following day, the film will hit 13 North American cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Atlanta and Dallas.

Northern Limit Line is also preparing to premiere in other Asian locations, such as Hong Kong, Macao, the Philippines and Myanmar by the end of 2015.

Despite its premiere date being postponed due to the MERS outbreak, Northern Limit Line had a record-breaking opening weekend. As of July 7, the film has earned about $22 million total.

The film initially made headlines when its director, Kim Hak-soon, launched a crowdfunding campaign to produce the film. More than 7,000 individuals contributed to the campaign, which amassed about a third of the film’s budget of $6 million.


Featured image via Next Entertainment World (NEW)

subscribe button


South Korean Violinist Wants Border Concert With North Korea

Pictured above: South Korean violinist Won Hyung-joon. (Photo via The House Concert)

by HYUNG-JIN KIM, Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Violinist Won Hyung-joon wants to bring North and South Korean musicians together next month to perform on each side of the world’s most heavily armed border. Standing in the way is the rivals’ long, frustrating inability to move past their painful shared history.

Won says North Korean diplomats in Berlin have tentatively signed off on a plan for a renowned German conductor to lead a 70-member South Korean orchestra through Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and the Korean folk tune “Arirang” while accompanied by a choir of 70 North Koreans just across the border on Aug. 15, the 70th anniversary of the 1945 liberation of a single Korea from Japan’s 35-year colonial rule.

Wary South Korean officials, however, want a more formal endorsement from Pyongyang before they give their agreement to a concert at the border village of Panmunjom, where an armistice ended the three-year Korean War in 1953. Won and his German partners are pushing for that formal go-ahead from Pyongyang.

Dozens of Korean musicians joining their instruments and voices in harmony across the border, Won says, could dramatically illustrate the continuing tragedy of the Korean Peninsula, which, after liberation from Japan, was divided into a pro-U.S South and Soviet-backed North and remains in a technical state of war because a peace treaty formally ending the eventual Korean War has never been settled.

“We won’t be able to talk to each other or hug each other. We’ll just stand face to face and commune through music,” Won said. “We want to do something meaningful at a meaningful place on a meaningful day.”

First, though, he has to win support from two governments whose reluctance to cooperate, even on the most seemingly mild proposals, is often ingrained.

The countries, which enjoyed a period of rapprochement in the 2000s, bar their citizens from exchanging visits, phone calls, letters and email without government permission. Naval skirmishes occasionally happen. And Pyongyang, which faces global condemnation for its nuclear bomb program, has recently responded with fury to the opening of a U.N. office in Seoul meant to monitor what defectors, activists and many countries call an abysmal human rights record.

Won and some outside analysts believe the concert will likely happen. Pyongyang may see it as a way to improve ties with Seoul, which could then stimulate a flow of aid and investment that the impoverished country needs to help revive its decrepit economy. Better relations with Seoul could also help offset North Korea’s fraying ties with China, its only major ally.

German maestro Christoph Poppen, who has agreed to do the conducting on Aug. 15, called music the only “language which you can understand all across barriers.”

“It’s simply much stronger than language, and it can overcome also emotional conflicts and problems,” he said.

Still, Won, 39, knows that bitterness over the Koreas’ tangled past can easily get in the way. In May, for instance, Pyongyang, on the eve of a planned trip by U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon to a jointly run factory park across the border in North Korea, canceled the invitation.

If the North-South concert on the border doesn’t happen, Won plans to gather the South Korean musicians and play someplace else, possibly near a South Korean border check-point or a former frontline U.S. army base.

Won, executive director of Seoul-based Lindenbaum Music, said the concert idea was inspired by the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, a troupe of Israeli and Arab musicians founded in 1999 by Israeli conductor Daniel Barenboim and late Palestinian academic Edward Said as a gesture of peaceful coexistence in the Middle East.

Arts, sports and other non-political events have sometimes helped smooth relations between rival countries.

In 1989, for instance, Soviet exile and renowned cellist Mstislav Rostropovich played Bach suites below the crumbling Berlin Wall before making a return to Russia to perform with Washington’s National Symphony Orchestra the next year.

A previous flurry of cultural and sports exchanges between the Koreas largely ended when conservatives took over from previous liberal governments in Seoul in 2008, though there have been sporadic exchanges between Pyongyang and the West. The New York Philharmonic held a concert in Pyongyang in 2008, while a North Korean and a French orchestra performed together in Paris in 2012 under the baton of noted South Korean-born conductor Chung Myung-whun.

In 2011, Won partnered with then Philadelphia Orchestra chief conductor Charles Dutoit to push for a joint youth orchestra performance, also on Aug. 15, but in Pyongyang.

Dutoit visited North Korea, conducted the country’s symphony orchestra and earned support from culture officials for the project. But the plan fell apart after Pyongyang wanted to reschedule the concert for October 2011 because of annual summertime military drills between Washington and Seoul that it sees as invasion rehearsals.

Won is working this time with Uwe Schmelter, a Korea expert and retired regional director of the Goethe-Institute in East Asia, who has persuaded the North Korean Embassy in Berlin to sign off on the concert. Now it is a matter of winning an endorsement from a higher-level organization in Pyongyang. Schmelter said last week he’s acting as a mediator but declined to provide details about the delicate negotiations.

“With a project of this magnitude, there really is no easy or ideal time,” said violinist David Kim, concertmaster at the Philadelphia Orchestra and a member of Won’s team. “Relations between the two Koreas are always complicated and everyone knows that. But music itself is not complicated at all — it touches and softens people’s hearts.”

“In order to pull this off, there has to be a visionary, a dreamer … who believes in the cause with all their heart and is unwilling to accept no for an answer. That person is Won.”

You can watch a video of Won’s performance below:


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

subscribe button


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