GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 266

RESEARCH INSTITUTE FOR NORTH KOREAN SOCIETY
http://www.goodfriends.or.kr/
[Weekely Newsletter] No.266 February 2009

[Hot Topics]
National Border Areas under Tight Security Due To Inspections by Border Security Command
Random Lodging Inspections in National Border Areas
Even Juvenile Border Crossers to Be Punished As Adults
Wireless Detection Bureau Inspectors Dispatched To National Border Areas in Large Numbers

[Food]
Frequent Absenteeism by Farmers Already Due To Lack of Food in Ahnark County, South Hwanghae Province
Artillery Rocket Regiment of 4th Corps receive 400g of food per day
Many Female Soldiers of 9th Corps Regiment of Artillery Rocket Are Weak Due to Lack of Provisions

[Economy]
Ceramic Factory in Pyongyang makes money by producing forgeries
Ahnark County, Repurchase Its Own Farmyard Manure at Higher Price

[Politics]
Sharply Intensified Security Precautions before the Election Day

[Society]
Collective Absence due to Resistant to the Manure Project in Danchun
Private Medicine Dealer Sent To Court for Medical Accident
The Wives of Officials More Interested In Superstitious Behavior
Incompetent Police Officers Stir Up Dissatisfaction in the Citizens of Sinuiju City

[Women/Children/Education]
Measles Outbreak in Soonchun middle schools
Students Guard School at Night

[Accidents]
Broken Fence Injures Seven during Services of Pyongyang Representative

[Commentary]
Punishment of Under-age River Crossers Should Be at the Level of Re-education






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[Hot Topics]
National Border Areas under Tight Security Due To Inspections by Border Security Command

Security in the national border areas has been very tight recently. Inspectors from the Border Security Command have been dispatched not only to North Hamgyong Province but also areas such as Ryanggang Province and North Pyongan Province along the national border. These inspections are being conducted after suspicions arose that the military units near the border were aiding border crossers. Due to these recent concerns, commanding officers of the battalions and companies also joined the inspectors. These commanding officers realize that if the inspectors find a connection between the border crossers and military personnel then even those with high rank will not be able to escape responsibility. Officers even had to ignore the Lunar New Year’s holidays to focus on their new task. The inspectors conducted searches at random throughout the day and night, keeping everyone on edge. Originally, the inspections were to be finished by Lunar New Year’s Day, February 16. As the inspectors continued their investigations, they found that the number of suspected cases were far more than they expected, which caused new instructions to be issued that ‘inspections will continue indefinitely until all the illegal activities are rooted out completely.’ Now there is no end in sight.

On February 2, a family of three was arrested after attempting to cross the border to China at a sentry post in Seongbook-ri in the City of Hoeryong, North Hamgyong Province. This was a family of a Chungjin city party leader. They attempted to cross the border with prearranged aid from military personnel, but were arrested by the inspectors of the Border Security Command. On the same day, a laborer from Gilju, North Hamgyong Province, was arrested after attempting to cross the border with the aid of a relative in South Korea.

Random Lodging Inspections in National Border Areas
As lodging inspections in the national border areas have increased, so has the number of complaints from residents. Inspectors following the heads of the Neighborhood Units raid homes indiscreetly day or night and identify residents with flashlights even as they sleep in bed. Hwang Soon-nam (female) of Moosan, North Hamgyong Province bitterly complained, saying “All these random inspections, the electricity inspections, lodging inspections and TV inspections drive me crazy. We need a good night’s sleep to make a meager living the following day. All these random inspections deprive us of restful nights.” Kim Young-ran (in her 40s) also complained, “I feel like I’m going crazy. I feel so tired at the end of the day. All these flashlights on my face during random inspections have been torture.” Residents in the national border areas appealed, “How long and why do we have to endure this terrible hardship just because we live in the national border area?”

Even Juvenile Border Crossers to Be Punished As Adults
Beginning January 20, a new policy states that any minors older than fourteen will be punished as adults if they are arrested for crossing the border. Provincial courts have dispatched documents declaring that any minors older than fourteen who are arrested for having crossed the border to China or for having attempted to cross the border will be treated as adults in a court of law. This is an exception to the way minors are treated in other criminal cases. In fact, on February 1, a people’s court in Nammoon-dong, Hoeryong sentenced two middle school students in grades 5 and 6 to three years in prison.

Wireless Detection Bureau Inspectors Dispatched To National Border Areas in Large Numbers
The Wireless Detection Bureau of the National Security Agency dispatched inspectors to the national border areas, including Hyesan, Sinuiju, Moosan, Hoeryong, and Onsung. These inspectors immediately began their task in earnest, monitoring 24 hours a day in conjunction with other teams. After the announcement of a new policy tightening control over the border, the adjacent areas have been thrown into confusion by continuous detection activities and home inspections.


[Food]
Frequent Absenteeism by Farmers Already Due To Lack of Food in Ahnark County, South Hwanghae Province
Panryook Cooperative Farm of Ahnark County, South Hwanghae Province concluded its harvest allotments to the farmers in two installments of distribution last November. The farmers received portions for 8 months worth. This looks better than other areas where the portions are worth 6 to 7 months. Still the farmers are concerned. Kang Soon-rye (35) recalls, “I still cry when I think about the hardship of last spring and my heart trembles. Many people died then. I have to save as much food as possible to survive a year with an 8-month supply.” In fact, there are already farmers absent from work because of lack of food. Farmers are trying to save for the coming ‘hard’ spring, and they don’t have much to spare now. A farmer said, “During last month, the third work unit had twenty people absent out of a total 73 workers. When we inquired of the reason, we found out that they didn’t have anything to eat.” Leaders, such as the Chairman of the Farm Management Committee and Party Secretary, try to persuade the farmers to report for work. The other farms in South Hwanghae Province are experiencing similar situations. A farm worker said, “The hardship last spring still remains as a nightmare to people. Many people died then. People are trying to save as much as possible in order to survive the ‘hard’ spring. They would rather eat less now. This is the reason for absenteeism.”

Artillery Rocket Regiment of 4th Corps receive 400g of food per day
The 4th Corps of regiment of an artillery rocket station at Ongjin County, South Hwanghae Province, received 400g of corn per person in February. The amount is still less than the standard 700g, but it is better than nothing. A support bureau worker said, “We tried viciously to get rations but failed to do so.” He did not elaborate on the details but blamed the farm managers for the failure of food saying, “Farm managers cheated when they handed the food over to soldiers.” An official said that due to the lack of measuring system the food they received is less than it is supposed to be. They assume the amount of food by gunny bags or vehicles, but nobody knows the exact amount. Many of the Support bureau’s workers who know about this situation sell some of the food to the market or give it to their family. So the actual amount of food shortage is big. He said “Receiving 400g of food per soldier is good.”

Many Female Soldiers of 9th Corps Regiment of Artillery Rocket Are Weak Due to Lack of Provisions
The 9th Corps Artillery Rocket regiment at Danchun, South Hamgyong Province is short of rations. It has only reserved 250 MT of food. Support bureau of the 9th Corps was supposed to receive 650 MT of food from North Hamgyong Province but it failed to do so. Instead, they received 250 MT of food, as they were late in picking up the rations. A high ranking officer pointed out that soldiers failed to prepare transportation for the food. He said, “Because the soldiers of support bureau were lacking in their planning, they returned back their Corps after getting the box car there late.” A soldier Jung Geumyee (age 25) said, “Recently, we eat a half bowl of steamed whole wheat with salt soup with barely any seaweed. Due to the poor harvest of last year, we do not have enough Gimchi either.” 40% of female soldiers of the 9th Corps suffers from malnutrition and has not participated in winter drills which started in December. Due to the missing preliminary judgment, regimental commander and officials of the Corp are criticized by the top of Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces saying, “Management’s failure created many weak soldiers.” Serious malnutrition caused more than 20 female soldiers to desert from barracks in January of this year.


[Economy]
Ceramic Factory in Pyongyang makes money by producing forgeries

A ceramic factory under the Pyongyang Mansoodae Creation Company was caught while making money by producing forgeries. There was a rumor last December that this factory made $100,000 by selling items that looked like the authentic product. Following the rumor, city police began investigation that resulted in arresting the producers of the forgery, broker and other related people. It appears that the workers of this factory survived difficult times by making forgeries of ceramic wares. Although most workers acted individually to sell their small-sized forgeries to trade companies at a low price, there were quite a lot of workers who formed groups to make substantial amount of money through forgery business. Safety Bureau has retrieved $30,000 from the people arrested and is currently conducting preliminary hearings. Suspecting there were other illicit business activities, the public prosecutors station has sent 10 inspectors to the factory to investigate.

Ahnark County, Repurchase Its Own Farmyard Manure at Higher Price
In Ahnark County of South Hwanghae Province, Neighborhood Units were found repurchasing for a higher price the farmyard manure that they sold to the farms. Some National Units in Ahnark County had already achieved the planned amount of manure and sold the leftover manures to a nearby collective farm without any hesitation. The earnings were used as cooperative fund of the National Units. However, after series of documents from the Central Party announcing additional amount of manure plan, National Units that sold their leftovers are now repurchasing back the manures at twice the price they sold to the farms.


[Politics] Sharply Intensified Security Precautions before the Election Day

Security around polling booths has been intensified in preparation for the upcoming election of Representatives for the Supreme People’s Assembly scheduled on March 8. The Central Party commanded, “We need to guarantee the security of the Representative Election for the Supreme People’s Assembly. The Regional Security Agencies need to inspect all crowds thoroughly/carefully and need to intensify supervision of security effort to prevent any violent disruption by the rebellious hostile groups especially at the polling place or nearby. The National Border Area launched a plan for crowd politics regarding this election and returned any foreigners or people without proper residential identification to their hometown in advance. On the opening day of launching the Crowd Politics, about 10,000 people gathered at nine a.m for their rehearsal at Hoeryong, North Hamgyong Province. Women shivered in below freezing temperature only wearing their Cheemah (치마) and Juhgori (저고리). The crowd clapped and cheered according to ordered signals but they seemed exhausted from following up with weariness and extreme cold.


[Society]
Collective Absence due to Resistant to the Manure Project in Danchun

Workers at a block factory in Danchun City of North Hamgyong Province, in resistance to the manure project, collectively missed work. Danchun United Mine Construction Enterprise’s Mine Management Office of Danchun District ordered all enterprises within their bureau to submit one ton of manure for each worker. The Officials of each Enterprise have started coaxing 100 kg of manure daily from each worker in order to support the farming industry. The Block Factory Workers claimed that they already submitted their manure share and resisted further collection by collectively refusing to go to work. Immediately after this incident, factory management visited the worker’s houses to persuade them to return. A worker from this factory, Shin Han-seok (45) commented, “We need to eat more to produce more manure. We are trying to submit all within our abilities. It is so hard to keep up with their demand. We understand that the farming industry needs more manure to solve this food crisis but we are only human. We do not understand why they are harassing us to make something we simply can not produce anymore.” The laborers, however, soon returned to work. Lee Myong-joon (in his 40s) commented about their return, “Nothing will change and it is our loss if we get criticized”

Private Medicine Dealer Sent To Court for Medical Accident
Investigation has started on a medical accident last month in Soonchun city, South Pyongan Province. It turned out that the accident happened because a private medicine dealer gave a wrong prescription. Mr. Jung, who is in his fifties, in Soonchun city sometimes performs simple medical treatments while he sells medicine. One patient, who Mr. Jung has treated, died middle of last month. Hospital concluded that it was due to wrong medication but Mr. Jung insisted that his diagnosis was correct and that it was not from his wrong diagnosis. However, the family reported to the authorities concerned, and the investigation began. They dug up the dead body, which was already buried after the funeral ceremony, to perform an autopsy. Even though it is still under the investigation, residents seem to believe that it was Mr. Jung's fault.

Jang Young-hwa (in his fifties) who mentioned a similar accident in Pyongsung said "Medical accidents are unavoidable under the current situation of our country”. He graduated from medical school and has been working at a hospital but points out that "When patients come to the hospitals we make a diagnosis, but the only treatment measure is giving the patients a prescription with medication names written on it. We tell patients to buy medicine from private medicine dealers. There is no other way to treat. So it is unavoidable to buy medicine from private dealers." Park Jeong-Yeon (49) in Pyongsung said "Free treatment is just the good old days story. If you do not have money, you shouldn't get sick. Officials could have new medication but the people without money hardly get new medication in Pyongsung."

The Wives of Officials More Interested In Superstitious Behavior
In Hamheung city, a lecture was held at each workplace and unit last month on the 29th. It was titled ' Let's crash superstitious behaviors against current thoughts and the spirit of the times.' The lecture pointed out that citizens must not purchase or sell any Chinese zodiac animal doll-like toys (십이지 인형). "There is a rumor that if someone has toys resembling the zodiacal animals such as Rabbit, pig, horse, dragon, rat, cow, etc in the house, their business would go well. Let us start a movement to get rid of these superstitions." Oh Young-ho in his thirties, who listened to the lecture, said "Believing in these types of superstitions and consulting fortune tellers is popular because we want our business to be successful. But officials considered it reactionary so they are trying to get us to reject such ideas." He then added "Actually, only the wealthy can afford superstitious behaviors. People without money do not do it. The wives of officials put forth all their strength to do these superstitious rites. Regular people attempt to save money to buy food so they do not have extra money for such offerings. Mr. Suh in his fifties, who sells Chinese zodiac animal doll-like toys, mentioned that women with fancy clothes and chubby cheeks are the ones that purchase the toys. He said, "Several police officer's wives came and bought the toys the other day. Before they start cracking down on it, they should make their family obey the rules first."

Incompetent Police Officers Stir Up Dissatisfaction in the Citizens of Sinuiju City
In Sinuiju City of North Pyongan Province, if a conversation about police officers is started, many grumbles of dissatisfaction can be heard, like that instead of catching the criminals that the citizens want them to catch, the police officers are harassing the citizens. Last month, one woman encountered an unexpected accident when someone knocked on her door calling the name of a child of the house. She opened the door thinking it was someone she knew. Instead, three masked people quickly ran in and killed her with fatal blows to her head with a washing club. They then run away with about 250,000 NK won after wounding other family members as well. This news spread quickly in the neighborhood the next day, but after an entire month, the criminals are still at large.

Lee (in her thirties) said, “I’m scared to death from all the burglary stories I’ve heard. I don’t know what the police officers are doing. They can’t even catch one despite the night and day searches. There are over 60 security officers, they know how to kick peddling traders and wander around on motorcycles but can’t catch even one criminal.” Jeong Hye-shim (thirties) said, “police officers in charge of catching smugglers along the Yalu River are actually participating in the smuggling themselves. They don’t have any talent in catching thieves but they seem to have an innate ability to do that.” The Labor disciplinary teams, ‘May 14 grupa’, are hated even more. Dwellers call this group ‘The Evil Big Brother (오빠시)’. Jang gyong-sook (forties) who lives in Chaeha-dong said, “In my country’s movie, there is a flagrant police officer called ‘Mr. Big Brother’ in the period of Japanese rule. This organization is temporary so they are trying everything they can to make money. I hate those people more than the police officers.” Jang deplored, “Since the central government has become corrupt it is only natural that the corruption reaches to the lower branches. There is no way to find sincere person anywhere these days.”


[Women/Children/Education]
Measles Outbreak in Soonchun middle schools

The measles outbreak in district 3 area 21 of the Kangan-dong of Pyongan Province is now reaching a nearby middle school. The number of students under the age of 15 who are bedridden with severe fevers is increasing rapidly. Sanitation and Disinfection Department is isolating students diagnosed with the measles and posting signs that read “measles patient, off limits”. On the 30th of last month, two students fell ill with the disease but went to school spreading the infection to other students. By February 5, measles patients totaled 21 in this school, and a third year female student was the first to die from the infection that afternoon. School and Medical authorities are forcing students with measles to not attend school and instead rest at home. Doctors of preventative medicine advised, “There is no medicine so heat up the room as much as possible and have the patients rest fully at home.” At present, about 10 students per class are not able to attend school due to this illness.

Students Guard School at Night
At a middle school in Soonchun City, South Pyongan Province, fifth and sixth graders are working as security officers due to recent cases of theft. Because of the school's up-to-date facility, televisions and recording devices are being stolen from the school. Although teachers and watch guards take turns guarding the school, they have now turned to students to partake in this job. Students freeze overnight due to the cold weather and unavailable heating system while guarding the school property. In response, parents are saying, "Let's just abandon the use of televisions and recording systems. Why must our children suffer because of these new tools? They are not being taught well and yet you ask for so much more in return. Now our children's' lives are at risk by making them freeze all night long." One fifth grader said, "There is a security officer that works here, but he said that adults need to sleep so we must do the work. As a result, every night there are students on every floor of the school building, sitting on the ground and spending the night. If we are caught sleeping, they increase the amount of work we have to do."


[Accidents]
Broken Fence Injures Seven during Services of Pyongyang Representative

During the services of the Representative of Supreme People´s Assembly, a school fence broke down and injured seven people at a middle school in Pyongyang Gwangbok Road. On this day, the school field and main roads were packed with people, heightening the chances of an accident. After the meeting, before the leading member left, citizens were not able to file out safely, resulting in the force that pushed the school fence over. As a result, a woman working for a power distribution company was killed and a male medical student broke his leg. The city of Pyongyang is a buzz about this accident and the incident is all that people are talking about. To prevent a repeat of this tragic incident, security will be severely enforced to help people move out in an orderly fashion.


[Commentary]
Punishment of Under-age River Crossers Should Be at the Level of Re-education
On February 1st, two minors received a 3-year prison term in Hoeryong, North Hamgyong Province. The reason was for crossing the river to China. Since the 20th of last month, the court in North Hamgyong Province issued a policy that mandates criminal charges to under-age river crossers over the age of 14 as if they are adults.

It has been reported that the atmosphere along the border these days is tighter than ever. The inspection division, which monitors military bases constantly checks the sentry post of the border patrol guards. The civilian houses are also under watchful eyes with the checks on lodgers, cell phones, and surveillance of the families of defectors. As an extension to this trend, the law regarding the punishment of under-age border river-crossers was announced for the first time this year. Previously, children and youth border river-crossers were not the focus of attention compared to adults. However, starting this year, a child over the age of 14 will be punishable as an adult if caught while crossing.

According to the North Korean Criminal Law Article 11 amended in 2005, only those over the age of 14 at the time of an offense can become subject to criminal charges. However, in the case of an ordinary crime whether the perpetrator is a minor or adult, non-criminal re-education will be applied in light of the level of rehabilitation and the seriousness of crime if correction can be accomplished through societal re-education programs (Article 49). This implies that the judicial process for minors has been made at the level of societal re-education. However, the North Korean authorities declared in recent announcement that border river crossing is an exception. In Chapter 3 pertaining to crimes of anti-state, the law prescribes that the “citizens betrayed this country and escaping to another country, surrender, commit treason, or handing over a secret can be punishable with more than five years of labor in prison” (Article 62 treason). As shown in the example of imposing prison terms to minors in Hoeryong city, criminal punishment of under-age border river-crosser seems to be based on this legal code.

The problem here is the issue of whether such punishment applied to minors is appropriate. It is true that ordinary border river-crossers received leniency if it did not involve treason or leakage of information even for adult crossers. Considering that, imposing 3-year prison terms to minors is too harsh for the simple act of running away to China by crossing the river. They cannot be viewed as people who have betrayed their own country and running away to another. There is no proof that they are crossing the river. Due to impure political ideology, North Korean authorities should be worried. In fact, most of them are just Kkotjebis who are crossing the border to China. In some occasions, there would be children who crossed the border to follow their family who escaped North Korea. However, they cannot be held responsible for that.

Punishing the under-age border river-crossers with criminal charge is also in violation of Article 37 of the United Nations Children's Rights Convention. According to the United Nations Children's Convention, any child (under 18) should not become subject to torture or cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment. (Section 1) The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time (Section 2). In addition, even if convicted, the punishment should take into account the child's age and the desirability of promoting the child's reintegration and the child's assuming a constructive role in society. (Article 40) North Korean legal authorities should observe the UN Convention on Children's Rights and apply sanction at the level of re-education instead of prison terms. We urge them to reconsider the underage river-crossing law.
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