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North Korea: Witness to Transformation

Slave to the Blog: From the Factual to the Possibly Factual

by | January 19th, 2014 | 07:00 am
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We’ll start with facts and then relax that constraint. In an earlier post I mentioned that the BBC was contemplating a North Korea service, but that funding was uncertain due to the Cameron government’s austerity drive. Well, according to Oliver Holtham at NK News the Beeb has decided against a proposal to establish a Korean language service, citing negative assessments of the cost effectiveness of such an operation. The reaction to the decision by human rights activists was predictably negative and they vowed to press on. We’re still waiting for Prime Minister Abe to allow us to set up transmitters in Japan: that would allow much more effective radio transmission than the short-wave approach that the BBC was considering.

Steph recently posted a piece on North Korean persecution of Christians, so it must be time to make our annual reference to the state of religious freedom in South Korea. Clearly there is no comparison between the two, but that does not mean that South Korea is blemish-free. Human Rights Without Frontiers recently released its “Annual World Freedom of Religion or Belief Prisoners List” which one newspaper characterized as ‘Eight member states of UN Human Rights Council ‘put believers and atheists in jail’, demonstrating that repression exhibits a rare degree of ecumenicalism. Anyway, HRWF observes that “In South Korea, a democratic country, by year’s end 599 young Jehovah’s Witnesses were each serving 18-month prison terms for conscientious objection to military service. Since the Korean War, 17,549 Witnesses have been sentenced to a combined total of 34,100 years in prison for refusing to perform military service.” As I observed in an earlier post, according to the United States Commission on Religious Freedom, “because of their criminal records, these individuals are barred from government office and unable to apply for any type of national certification exam. Men who have done their military service but subsequently refuse to accept mandatory reservist obligations are also punished, usually by monetary fines…. the imprisonment of Jehovah’s Witnesses and other individuals who object to compulsory military service on the basis of conscience or religion puts South Korea in a league with Eritrea, Turkmenistan, Belarus, Singapore, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and North Korea—not a place any self-respecting country would want to be.”

A seventeen-year-old North Korean is reportedly seeking refuge in the South Korean embassy in Vientiane, Laos. Let’s hope that the South Korean embassy and the Laotian authorities perform better this time around than they did a year ago.

Having gotten the reality-based part of the post out of the way, we can move on to…well, let us just say more speculative stories. According to press reports, the Kim family increasingly resembles the Corleones or the Sopranos, depending on your generational vantage point. Having waxed Uncle Jang (I loved that part about the girly man brother personally leading the armed assault on his residence), Jong-un has put his trusted sister, Yeo-jong, in charge of the money. Aunt Kyong-hui lingers on like the malignant Livia Soprano. And the part I like best: Kim Jong-un was smashed out of his gourd when he ordered Uncle Jang’s execution. The rolling up of the Jang Family, oops I mean the “Jang Faction” proceeds. Maybe the Worm was right to lose that basketball game. He may not be the only one who needs to keep away from the Bad Boy vodka.