Tag Archives: North Korea

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North Korea Says It Allows Religious Freedom, Lambasts U.S. for ‘Hypocrisy’

by TONY KIM

North Korea staunchly denied the veracity of a U.S. State Department report that criticized the isolated country for its “absolute prohibition of religious organizations” and “harsh punishments for any unauthorized religious activities.”

Though the U.S. report assessing international religious freedom is more than a year old, the North’s state-run news agency just this week launched into a tirade against the U.S. for its “hypocrisy” and insisted that North Korean citizens enjoy constitutional rights to practice religion freely.

The U.S. Department’s International Religious Freedom Report, released in April of 2013, didn’t mince words about what it characterized as North Korea’s oppressive restrictions on religious activities, alleging that citizens affiliated with missionaries are severely punished and even executed.

But in response, North Korea’s government on Tuesday went as far as uploading a video to its state-controlled YouTube channel Uriminzokkiri that profiled the newly renovated Chilgol Church, which Pyongyang claims allows Christians to freely worship. A minister surnamed Baek says in the video, “Many Christians come from South Korea and overseas to come to Chilgol Church. We have become a church that does good deeds for the reconciliation and unification between both Koreas.”

North Korea goes on to state how America has acted as a deterrent to religious freedom because its military bombed over 1,900 churches during the Korean War. It also accused the U.S. of fabricating such allegations in an attempt to damage North Korea’s reputation.

“Innumerable are the crimes committed by the U.S. in violation of religions in different parts of the world,” KCNA, North Korea’s state news agency, reported. “Former U.S. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and other reactionary ruling quarters of the U.S. worked with blood-shot eyes to crack down on Islam and bring down the social systems in Islamic countries under the pretext of ‘war on terror,’ not content with describing Islam as fascism.”

In the same broadcast, the North pledged to severely punish those committing “crimes against the law of the DPRK under the mask of religion.”

This statement seemed to apply to recent cases involving foreign missionaries like Kenneth Bae and John Short, who have been detained in the North for attempting to proselytize within the country. Short, an Australian, was released in March, but Bae, a Korean American Christian missionary from Washington state, is serving a 15-year sentence of hard labor after being convicted of allegedly planning to “bring down the government” through religious activities. He has been detained there for two years.

While North Korea’s constitution apparently guarantees religious freedom, Ji Min Kang, a North Korean escapee and contributor to the U.S.-based website NK News, said it’s quite another story in reality. “The basic principles of North Korean socialism are strongly opposed to and incompatible with religious beliefs,” he wrote in an article for NK News.

Kang goes on to state that while the presence of internationally prevalent religions like Islam and Christianity is very limited, folk religion and fortune telling are ingrained into their culture. Despite limited effort through propaganda to discourage fortune-telling activities, they are still very popular and even rumored to have drawn North Korean leaders also to participate.

Kang concludes, however, that although shamanism and folk religion may be prevalent in North Korea’s society, the one religion that citizens are obligated to follow is the ideology of the nation’s founder, Kim Il-Sung.

Photo of Chilgol Church in North Korea, via NK News.

 

 

 

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During Sambok Holiday, North and South Koreans Eat Similar Summertime Superfoods

by TONY KIM

It’s the Korean holiday you likely never heard of: Sambok.

Beginning around mid-July, Sambok spans three days, divided by 10-day and 20-day intervals, respectively. Traditionally, Korean farmers would take a break during this period due to the heat and focus on rejuvenating their tired bodies.

Certainly, next to Chuseok (Harvest Day) or Seollal (Lunar New Year), this traditional farmers’ holiday is not exactly celebrated today, even in Korea. However, you’ll know it’s Sambok when you see droves of people flocking to their favorite restaurants serving samgyetang, a Korean soup with chicken and ginseng, and even dog meat soup.

And apparently it’s no different in North Korea. The Daily NK recently reported how North Korean media often write articles in July about the different foods to eat during Sambok, a period known in Korea as the three hottest days of the summer.

Last July, the North’s Central News Agency reported, “With the start of Sambok upon us, many restaurants are serving customers foods to revitalize their bodies and increase their appetites against the heat.” The article then described why samgyetang, dog meat soup and other summertime superfoods are so beneficial. 

Sam means “three,” and according to the North Korean news article, bok means “to lie face down because the summer days are so hot that even a frog cannot endure it, lying flat with its stomach stuck to the humid earth.”

In the North, other popular dishes to eat during Sambok include steamed chicken and boiled rabbit, which is stuffed with chestnuts, dates, black soybean, and milk vetch root, according to the Daily NK article. The rabbit dish first became popular in the 1970s as part of North Korea’s “Kid Plan,” said the news site.

For North Koreans who can’t afford these dishes, yujigo, which consists of sticky rice, oil, eggs and sugar, is a popular alternative.

An anonymous defector told the Daily NK, “North Korean women work hard to make sure their husbands get to eat revitalizing foods. The most well-known food for revitalization is steamed chicken, but different regions have different specialties.”

Meanwhile, in South Korea, patjuk, or red bean soup, is also a well-known favorite during Sambok for its purported medicinal properties, which is said to fend off heat and illness. Patjuk was traditionally believed also to drive away evil spirits because these spirits avoid the color red. Jangoegui,or roasted eel, is also widely eaten because the vitamin A and E it contains is supposed to aid in blood circulation and prevent skin wrinkling.

This year Sambok began on July 18, with the second day yesterday, and the final day on Aug. 7.

Picture via The Waygook Effect

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29 NKorean Defectors and Five Guides Arrested in China

Above photo: Demonstrators stage a rally at the Chinese Embassy in Seoul to protest China’s policy of arresting North Korean defectors in 2012. Source: Los Angeles Times

by JAMES S. KIM

An activist group for North Korean defectors confirmed the arrest of 29 North Korean defectors and five guides in China, reports the Chosun Ilbo. It is said to be the largest arrest of North Korean defectors and guides recorded so far.

The individuals, who were divided into two groups, were arrested between July 15 and July 17, said the newspaper. Kwon Na-hyun, speaking on behalf of the activist group, said that 20 defectors were arrested in Qingdao, Shandong Province, and nine others in Kunming, Yunnan Province, as they made their way through an established escape route to Southeast Asia. Of the guides arrested, one of them, Na Su-hyun, 39, was a former North Korean defector who has a South Korean passport. The South Korean consulate general in China is expected to visit Na.

“Nine of them left for Kunming [from Qingdao] on July 14, because it would have been dangerous if all 29 defectors traveled together,” Kwon told the Chosun Ilbo. The defectors are being held in Tunmen, a town close to the North Korean border, and they face almost certain deportation.

Voice of America reports that the group of North Koreans consisted of four families, including a couple in their 60s and others in their 20s and 30s, as well as a 1-year-old baby.

The South Korean government apparently learned of the arrest on July 16 and is in the process of negotiating with the Chinese government for their release. A Seoul official told Voice of America that Beijing was very reluctant to release the North Koreans to South Korea. Meanwhile, China has not publicly commented on the issue.

Beijing’s policy for years has been to send North Korean defectors back, citing its border treaty with Pyongyang and illegal immigration problems as a whole. Instead of classifying them as refugees or asylum-seekers, the Chinese government classifies them as illegal economic migrants subject to deportation.

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NKorea Protests Chinese Video For ‘Compromising’ Kim Jong-un’s Dignity

by TONY KIM

It has only been about a week since North Korea filed a U.N. complaint to ban The Interview, an American comedy about a producer and talk show host’s attempt to assassinate Kim Jong-un. Well, July just doesn’t seem to be the young dictator’s month, as now, even a comedic video out of China, North Korea’s closest political ally, is ridiculing North Korea’s supreme leader.

The viral video, which pastes Kim Jong-un’s face over the bodies of people busting various dance moves and being the object of some nasty blows and kicks, is making its rounds in China’s immense interweb. Famous political leaders, including President Obama, make regular guest appearances both as Kim’s friends and foes in his fictitious, epic and disjointed journey.

According to the Chosun Ilbo, a source in China said North Korea feels like the video “seriously compromises Kim’s dignity and authority” and has demanded it be removed. Beijing has apparently not been able to take it down, however. The video was created by a man surnamed Zhang from Suzhou, a large city in the Jiangsu Province of Eastern China. He has reportedly studied at Kyonggi University in South Korea, the Chosun Ilbo reported.

The video features segments set to catchy Chinese techno music, which surprisingly fits well with most of the dancing. Each scene seems to get more bizarre as the video progresses, with Kim laying down some dance moves in random places.

Then the big finale happens: Obama, who is officiating a martial arts fighting match between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Kim, noticeably gets frustrated when the fighters don’t break apart and proceeds to beat up the two fighters. Of course, another referee, Russian President Vladimir Putin, tries to calm Obama down, but only to get shoved to the ground. Several clips later, things get a little uncomfortable as Kim fights a dragon costume and then moves on to disembowel the poor fellow.

Though the video is bizarre and over-the-top at times, it also carries an unexpected feel-good quality, as one gets to see political enemies dancing side by side and pranking each other—a sight difficult to imagine in “real life.”


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North/South Talks Over Asian Games In Incheon Collapse

by TONY KIM

Though sports is often seen as a way to offer nations in conflict a way of reaching across the aisle, a recent breakdown in talks between North and South Korea over the upcoming Asian Games dealt a bit of a setback to the goals of sports diplomacy.

The North Korea delegation participating in talks with the South over the 2014 Asian Games to be hosted in Incheon, South Korea, reportedly walked out of the most recent session, accusing its Korean counterpart of being insincere, according to a report in the Korea JoongAng Daily.

“North Korea was not happy with the way the talks were conducted,” an official from the Unification Ministry was quoted as saying by the South Korean newspaper.

The first round of talks, proposed by North Korea, focused on logistical issues, such as transportation methods and determining the size of the athletic and cheerleading team Pyongyang wound send to the event.

Yesterday, Kwon Kyung-sang, secretary general of the Incheon Asian Games Organizing Committee, and Son Kwang-ho, vice chairman of North Korea’s Olympic Committee, met in Panmunjom, a village located in a demilitarized zone, as part of their respective three-member delegations. Not only did the two sides fail to hash out an agreement, North Korea’s state news agency KCNA indicated the country is considering boycotting the event. North Korea had planned to send 700 athletes and cheerleaders to Incheon.

One of the main points of controversy was choosing an agreeable transportation method for the athletes and cheerleaders. Traveling by boat may be ruled out, since South Korea has prohibited North Korean vessels from entering its waters after the North allegedly sunk the South’s Cheonan warship in May of 2010. The North’s officials have long maintained they were not responsible, though an investigation by the South implicated them.

Another possible issue may have been South Korea’s unwillingness to pay for the North’s travel expenses as it did during the Sunshine Policy administrations of former Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, according to the Ministry of Unification. The ministry suggested that the South this year would only a pay a portion, an amount that abides by international regulations for less-developed countries.

Additionally, the size of North Korea’s flags has also reportedly been an issue, as the South Korean delegates declared them to be too large. According to AP, an anonymous South Korean official said the objections were out of concern for the safety of the North Korean cheerleaders.

A follow-up meeting has not been set by either side to further discuss logistics of the Asian Games, which begins on Sept. 19.

Photo via AFP

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In Amazing Reddit AMA, One Man Shares How He Escaped North Korea In The 1950s

by STEVE HAN

Social media has given voices to people of all backgrounds. One Reddit user started his own Ask Me Anything thread to share a deeply personal story.

DocKim, also known as Doctor Kim on Reddit, fled North Korea as a child during the Korean War in the early 1950s. He escaped to South Korea and eventually to the U.S. He now lives in Nova Scotia, Canada, where he works as a doctor.

“We walked, bussed, and took a train until we were close to the border,” said DocKim through his grandson. “When we tried to cross over we were stopped by soviet soldiers and my uncle bribed them with a wrist watch. They let us go. Many of the soldiers had no education and were very impressed by watches. I saw one soldier that had broken watches all up his arm.”

DocKim added that he never regretted fleeing North Korea, but that he never met his parents again since leaving the country.

“I don’t know what happened to them,” he said. “My mother and father were going to meet me in the south. My mother urged me to go with my uncle and they would meet me later … but they never arrived and I lost all contact with them.”

Although DocKim has very little memory of attending school in North Korea, he remembers using a tray filled with sand to practice write Korean characters.

“We didn’t have any paper so I would write the characters in the sand then shake the tray to start over again,” he said.

He said his worst memories are of the Korean War. “I was captured by North Korean soldiers when they were invading the south,” he said. “I was staying with a local teacher when I was captured. He actually knew some of my captors and was able to negotiate my release. I was lucky as I would likely have been executed.” Read the full transcript of DocKim’s Ask Me Anything session here.

Photo: Dr. Kim in Newfoundland with his new Volkswagen in the 60′s. Via Reddit

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NKorea In World Cup Final, Says Fake News Clip That Further Distorts Public View Of Country

by TONY KIM

On Saturday, YouTube channel Korea News Backup posted what appeared to be a North Korean news clip of its national team advancing to the World Cup finals to face Portugal. Several news sites even initially reported that the video is an official North Korean state broadcast. The absurdity of the content (um, North Korea didn’t qualify for this year’s tournament), coupled with the public’s oh-those-crazy-North-Koreans view, was enough to make the video go viral. So far, it’s generated more than 5 million views.

In the clip, a female anchor takes viewers through North Korea’s historic run in the tournament. Apparently, the national team first advanced out of the group stage as the number one seed after beating China 2:0. Conveniently, North Korea then goes on to blow out the U.S. and Japan to finally face Portugal. Edited footage of Brazilian fans cheering for North Korea’s victory and its supreme leader, Kim Jong-un, was also shown.

Though we can’t confirm 100-percent, it’s very, very likely that the segment is fake.

Yahoo Sports points out that the anchor’s dialect is wrong and her voice is not in synch with her lips. More convincingly, The Telegraph reported around a month ago that North Korean citizens are actually able to watch the World Cup games, even though some games may be shown after a 24-hour delay. In its report, one North Korean viewer comments that although North Korea did not qualify, he was curious to see other national teams play.

Of course, such details don’t quite fit the simplistic narrative of North Korea as a “hermit kingdom.” With such a lack of information coming out of the closed society, even the most bizarre stories are often reported at face value.

 

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Ex-State Department Official Stephen Kim Begins Sentence Today In Government Leaks Case

by STEVE HAN

A Korean American preparing for his jail term over leaking classified intelligence on North Korea is saying he still intends on pursuing his “dreams” despite “incredible pain” and “shattered reputation” he suffered because of the case.

A former State Department contractor, Stephen Jin-woo Kim gave classified information about North Korea’s potential nuclear test to a reporter at Fox News in 2009. He was sentenced 13 months in prison in April. Kim said he will start serving the sentence on Monday.

“I don’t know whether it is proper for me to confront incarceration with calmness or trepidation,” the- 46-year-old  told Yonhap News Agency. “I am susceptible to the insecurity of the unknown.”

Kim’s case is seen as an example of how the Obama administration views espionage issues. Some have suggested that punishing Kim violates freedom of the press as the information he leaked did not pose a direct threat to national security.

“The social and personal damage to my family scarred deeply, but the pain does not stop there,” Kim said. “My reputation, a reputation that I had assiduously built over the years, was shattered. The betrayal and the abandonment of so-called friends were particularly cutting.”

However, Kim says that his experience has sparked a new dream for him to pursue. He plans to read world classics in theology, philosophy, literature and history while teaching other inmates who were “not as fortunate as I would be able to receive a high school diploma.”

Kim said: “I have been told by my closest friends to write a memoir of my unique government experience, as well as the novelties of prison life. I think I am still too young to reflect on life. It is yet to be completed. I still have some life to live. And there remain many things I would like to accomplish.”

After serving his 13-month term in prison, Kim wishes to return to South Korea to live with his family. There, he wants to launch a consulting business and leverage his “wide, varied and unique” experience. His ultimate goal is to launch a high school in Korea, he said.