Tag Archives: North Korea


Proceeds of $64,000 Whiskey Shot to Benefit Liberty in North Korea (LINK)


Good whiskey deserves a good toast. Why not toast to the freedom of North Koreans?

Blaine Vess, CEO of StudyMode, a Los Angeles-based ed-tech company, purchased the $64,000 dram of Macallan 64 Year single-malt whiskey on Saturday at The Macallan’s cocktail lounge at the Montage Beverly Hills. The Macallan had promised to donate proceeds from the sale to the charity of the buyer’s choice, and Vess chose Liberty in North Korea (LiNK).


But instead of drinking the whiskey, Vess, after toasting with fellow LiNK members, including Danny Lee, a North Korean rescued by LiNK, returned it to the hotel’s safe. The shot would be poured and enjoyed, he said, when the North Korean people were free.

“I believe that will happen in my lifetime,” Vess said. “I’m honored to support LiNK in promoting freedom and empowerment for the North Korean people, and grateful to The Macallan for their generosity in giving the proceeds from this valuable whiskey to charity. I hope what we’re doing here will raise awareness for what LiNK is doing in North Korea, and encourage others to support their efforts as well.”

Vess has supported LiNK since 2012, and he recently became chairman of the non-profit’s board of directors. The mini-bottle of the 85-proof Maccallan scotch that he purchased contains three single malts filled in 1942, ’45, and ’46, and it is the only one of its kind. A decanter of the same Macallan 64 Year single malt sold for $460,000 in 2010.

“Our organization is funded by thousands of people who find creative and sometimes crazy ways to support the North Korean people,” said Justin Wheeler, Vice President of LiNK. “We love that Blaine has decided to hold off drinking the shot and instead stand in solidarity with our North Korean friends. We can’t wait to return someday to raise our glasses filled with the world’s most expensive shot of whisky to celebrate the freedom of the North Korean people. We won’t stop until that day comes.”

That’s going to be one hell of a toast.


You can watch a brief video of the event below:


Another Suspected North Korean Drone Found in South Korea


A South Korean fisherman found an unmanned drone, believed to be from North Korea, near a disputed maritime border on Monday, reported The Wall Street Journal.

The drone looks similar to three other suspected North Korean drones found near Seoul six month ago, according to South Korean authorities. Although South Korea’s investigators concluded that the previous drones, which were found to have flown over the presidential office in Seoul before crashing, were found earlier were launched by the North, its regime denied the accusation and criticized the South for starting a smear campaign.

“The recovered wreckage looks quite similar in shape and color to the North Korean drone found in March in Paju,” Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

When the fisherman recovered the drone on Monday, it had no wings and the body reportedly measured 2.6 feet wide and 3.3 feet long, according to Reuters. Unlike the previous drone from six months ago, it did not have a camera attached to the aircraft.

The South Korean military has been criticized in recent months for failing to identify or prevent unidentified aircraft around its capital city. In May, the military announced that another suspected North Korean drone was found, only to learn later that the object was the door of a portable toilet, prompting heavier criticisms from the public.

Photo via Huffington Post Japan

Matthew Miller's trial in North Korea

Mattew Miller Sentenced to 6 Years of Hard Labor in North Korea


Matthew Todd Miller, one of the three American detainees currently held in North Korea, was sentenced to six years of hard labor for committing “hostile acts” against the isolated state, as reported by The New York Times.

Miller, 24, was arrested in April for allegedly tearing up his tourist visa and demanding asylum upon arrival, according to the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) at the time. KCNA recently released photos of Miller in the defendant’s seat with eyes downcast and looking pale in his black turtleneck despite it being summer.

According to The Associated Press, which was allowed to attend the trial, Miller was accused of having a “wild ambition” of experiencing North Korean prison life and deliberately violated North Korean law in order to write a firsthand account about human rights conditions in the North.

The prosecution also accused him of falsely claiming to have confidential information about the U.S. military in South Korea on his iPad and iPod, AP reported.

Earlier this month, all three detainees were allowed a brief interview with CNN. Each of them urged Washington to send an envoy to secure their release.

One of the other two American detainees, Kenneth Bae, a Korean American missionary, is currently serving a 15-year sentence of hard labor for allegedly being a part of a Christian plot to overthrow the North Korean regime. He stated in his interview with CNN that he has been spending his time moving between the labor camp and a hospital due to his failing health.

Meanwhile, the other detainee, Jeffrey Fowles, is awaiting trial on charges of leaving a Bible behind during his tourist trip.

The State Department has repeatedly offered to send Robert R. King, its special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, to Pyongyang, but North Korea refused, apparently seeking a government official with higher profile.

The NY Times reported that the Supreme Court in North Korea said Miller waived his right to legal counsel and that he would not be permitted any appeals.

Photo courtesy of Reuters/KCNA

North korea flag

SKoreans Banned From Carrying NKorean Flag at 2014 Asian Games


South Korea reminded its citizens Friday that waving North Korean flags during the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon will be strictly prohibited, according to Yonhap.

North Korean flags will not be hoisted on the streets of Incheon, and all South Korean citizens are banned from bringing the flag into the stadium.

Officials from The Supreme Public Prosecutors’ Office, National Intelligence Service and Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism decided on the ban in a meeting Monday, as reported by The Chosun Ilbo. However, officials agreed to allowing the communist state’s flag be displayed inside the stadium and the athlete’s village.

This is not the first time the North Korean flag issue has sparked controversy as the South Korean government enforced the ban during the 2002 Busan Asian Games.

According to The Chosun Ilbo, the ban originates from the 1948 National Security Law, which makes the recognition of North Korea as a political entity illegal.  

With the opening of the 2014 Asian Games just a week away, North Korea has already started sending their 237-member delegation to Incheon.

North Korean athletes will be allowed to raise their flags during sporting events and award ceremonies, but South Koreans who are caught in possession of a North Korean flag will face criminal charges.

Photo courtesy of Lee Jin-man/AP.


North Korea Bans Wi-Fi Use, Which Was Limited To Begin With


North Korea has banned foreign tourists from using wireless Internet access, according to reports from China, presumably in an effort to further clamp down on its citizens from gaining access to information technology in a country that enforces rigid censorship.

The North Korean government notified “nearly all foreign embassies, international organizations and other foreigners working in the country that wireless Internet access will no longer be granted to foreign tourists, China’s Xinhua news agency reported Wednesday. Moreover, authorities ordered to dismantle Wi-Fi installments before Sept. 11, according to the report.

Although average North Korean citizens cannot freely access the Internet, foreigners visiting the country on tourist visas until recently have had relatively free access to social media, including Twitter and Facebook on the Wi-Fi network operated by the state-run mobile company Koryolink. The tech firm is a joint venture with Egypt’s Orascom Telecom and has about 2.5 million subscribers.

In recent years, an increasing number of North Koreans in Pyongyang reportedly began moving to homes near foreign embassies to gain an illicit access to the Wi-Fi systems to bypass the tightly controlled flow of information in the country.

North Korea “warned that those who violate the regulation would be severely fined if the wireless connection signal is detected in the examinations, but no explanations or reasons were given by the officials,” Xinhua reported.

Photo via Phys.org

Matthew Miller

NKorea to Hold Trial for American Detainee Matthew Miller on Sept. 14


North Korea has announced that it will hold a trial on Sept. 14 for Matthew Miller, one of three American detainees currently held by the communist state, according to Yonhap.

“The Supreme Court of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) decided to hold on September 14 a court trial on American Matthew Todd Miller, now in custody according to the indictment of a relevant institution,” the state-run news agency KCNA said in a brief dispatch. 

Matthew Miller, 24, was arrested in April for allegedly tearing up his tourist visa and seeking asylum upon arrival, according to the North Korean state media reports at the time.  No further details of charges against Miller were given.

Last week, CNN was granted a rare opportunity to interview all three detainees, including Kenneth Bae, 56, and Jeffrey Edward Fowle, 46.  Each detainee urged Washington to send an envoy to the North to help bring them home.

“I deliberately committed my crime,” Miller told CNN’s Will Ripley at a hotel in Pyongyang.  “I have already admitted my guilt and apologized to the government of the DPRK and I have been asking for forgiveness.”

Miller also expressed frustration that “there’s been no movement” from the American government to secure his release and that his repeated pleas for help have gone unanswered.

“My situation is very urgent, that very soon I’m going to trial, and I would directly be sent to prison,” he said, adding that he will not learn of his charges until he goes on trial.  “I think this interview is my final chance to push the American government into helping me.”

Bae, a Korean American Christian missionary, was detained in November 2012 and is currently serving a 15-year sentence at a labor camp for allegedly being a part of a Christian plot to overthrow the North Korean regime.  In his CNN interview, Bae said his health has “been failing” for the past few months, but claims that he has been treated as “humanely as possible.”

Fowle, an American tourist, was accused of leaving a Bible behind during a tourist trip.  Proselytizing is considered a serious crime in North Korea, and Fowle was arrested on May 7 at the airport as he was about to board a flight out of the country.  He said in his interview that he expects his trial to start within a month.

After the CNN interviews were released, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki requested the North Korean government to release the three detainees “out of humanitarian concern.”  Meanwhile, Sweden continues to negotiate with North Korea on behalf of the U.S., which has no diplomatic ties with the isolated country and no embassy in Pyongyang.

A One and a Two

‘A One and A Two': One Part Love Story, One Part Reflection on a Divided Korea


When graduate film student Sungho Ahn came across a news article about a North Korean student studying in the U.S. a few years ago, the sheer thought of someone from the North being on an American campus took him aback. Of course, as someone pursuing his masters in film at USC, he then let his imagination take over. A series of questions danced around in his head: What if I met someone here, and she was North Korean? What if we fell in love? Could we find a way to be together, even though I am from South Korea and she is from the North?

Such questions eventually led to the making of A One And A Two, a short film he directed, starring Korean American actor Tim Jo and South Korean actress Hyunkyung Ryu.

A One and A Two, in the words of the director, is “one part love story, and the other, a reflection on the split between the two Koreas.” He added, ”I thought I could kill two birds with one stone.”

In the film, Jo (who starred in the former ABC sitcom The Neighbors) plays Sang-yup, a Korean American student at an American university, who meets and falls hard for fellow student Geum-song (played by Ryu of the Korean films The Servant, My Wife is a Gangster 2). But their blooming romance is put to the test once he finds out she’s from North Korea.

timjoTim Jo

Ahn believes his modern-day Romeo and Juliet-inspired tale takes a different approach than Hollywood or the South Korean film industry in how it treats North/South Korean subject matter. “In South Korea, they’re too political or in the spy genre,” Ahn said. “In America, they have always treated the country as evil or in a comedic way, and the [North Korean] people are commonly portrayed as poor, skinny and bedraggled.”

ryuHyunkyung Ryu

As a result, audiences may find the portrayal in A One and A Two quite surprising, as Ryu’s character, Geum-song, hails from an elite North Korean family that is wealthy and well-educated. Ahn said that while doing research for the film, he discovered that many children from elite North Korean families have studied abroad during their college years.

But the filmmaker, who formerly worked at a documentary film company in Korea before coming to the U.S., also noted that the research aspect proved the most challenging, as it was difficult gleaning first-hand accounts from North Korean students about their experiences studying abroad.

“I tried to meet North Korean students here, but they kept avoiding me. They were scared to talk about North Korea,” Ahn said. “There was a guy  [Yi Han-yong] from Kim Jong-il’s family who defected to the South. He decided to reveal his identity and went on television talking about his past. A few months later, he was mysteriously assassinated.”

According to Ahn, the film is meant to be more than just a simple love story. He hopes audience members will reflect on the deeper thematic message. “First, the focus should be on the couple and their sad love, but when the film is over, I would like the audience to look at the bigger picture and think about this divided country,” Ahn said. “Korea is the only country in the world to be still split into two. It’s devastating.

“When the film’s over, I want the audience to think about the two characters’ ending. About what happens to them, and what that means,” he added.

Jo said he appreciated the opportunity to star in the film because he finally had the chance to portray a character that reflected his real-life background as a Korean American. “As actors, oftentimes, we’re inserted into other people’s stories. We explore characters that are part of a larger story,” Jo said. “But if, and when, we’re given the opportunity to tell our own stories, to shine a light on the experiences of our culture, I’m so proud of that. I think we’re extremely qualified.”

The short is in post-production and is expected to be completed by late December 2014. It will be playing the festival circuit after that, with plans to expand it into a full-length feature film, said Ahn.

For more information on the film, including how to support the project with a donation, visit www.oneandtwofilm.com.

Photo of Tim Jo via Zimbio
Photo of Hyunkyung Ryu via Koreandrama

North Korea Ice Bucket

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Reaches North Korea


By now, it’s nearly impossible to not have seen or heard of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge—that is, unless you reside in North Korea.  The viral campaign has now reached one of the most reclusive countries in the world, thanks to Pras Michel, a founding member of the Fugees, who took his challenge in North Korea’s capital on Sunday.

For his challenge, Pras had two buckets of ice water doused on him by his friends at a pier along Pyongyang’s Taedong River. Passerby on foot and boat were seen caught by surprise and laughing.

The two-time Grammy-winning rapper said he thought that Pyongyang would be the perfect place to perform the popular charity challenge since it is unknown in the country.

“I thought I’d put a little twist to it,” Pras told The Associated Press. “When we go to places, my crew, we stick out. You can tell instantly these guys aren’t from this neck of the woods. But the people have been good to us.”

He added that he passed the challenge to four others including his former bandmate Lauryn Hill and Prince Harry.

Pras flew into Pyongyang on Saturday to watch an international pro wrestling match and “explore.” He stated that he is currently working on several projects including a documentary about Haiti’s presidential election that is set to come out by the end of the year.

Over 3 million people around the world has participated in the challenge, raising more than $100 million for ALS research. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that can result in paralysis and death.

Photo via The Associated Press.