GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

.

North Korea Today No.282

RESEARCH INSTITUTE FOR NORTH KOREAN SOCIETY
http://www.goodfriends.or.kr
[Weekely Newsletter] No.282 June 2009
[“Good Friends” desires to help the North Korean people through humanistic point of view, and publishes “North Korea Today” describing the way the North Korean people live as real as possible. We at Good Friends also hope to be a bridge between the North Korean people and the world.]
[Hot Topics]
An Elderly Man is Arrested is for Saying “Can Anyone Open the Gates To a Strong Nation?”
An Elderly Resident is Arrested for Saying “Things Were Not Even This Bad During Japanese Rule”
Three Female Peddlers Arrested for Suggesting That “Ours Is Party of Empty Talk”

[Food]
At 4.25 Training Center, Delay in Food Supply for July Predicted

[Economy]
Kangwon Province, Sold Plowing Fuel to Purchase Food
Members of the Democratic Women’s Union Fulfill Their Rice Seedling Task to Work at Their Own Businesses

[Politics]
In Ham-heung , Cracking Down on Drugs through September 9

[Society]
Daily Increase in Crimes Committed by Female Robbers
“Solving the Nation’s Food Crisis, Is It the Job Only for the Poor?”
A Repercussion Spreads in Haeju City as a Veteran Dies of Hunger

[Women/Children/Education]
Mobilized University Students Commute from School to Farms Due to Lack of Food
Middle School Students Bring Lunch

[Accidents]
All Passengers Killed on Ship Headed to South Korea by Cannon Fire
Kangsun Chunlima Steel Enterprise, Safety Accidents Happened
[Commentary]
“Reactionary Words” Needs to Be Clearly Defined
________________________________________________________
[Hot Topics]
An Elderly Man is Arrested is for Saying “Can Anyone Open the Gates To a Strong Nation?”
Kim Nam-joong (70’s), an elderly resident of Haeandong, Danchun City in South Hamgyong Province, spends much of his time socializing and talking with ten of his close friends. When they get together, these men talk about a wide range of subjects, and often the conversation turns to the difficulties they now face in their lives. Early last May, one member claimed to the group: “I hear the gates to a strong nation will be opened in 2012 and our nation will become as wealthy as any other nation.” To this, Mr. Kim responded, “I would like to see the gates open just a little bit, if not open fully.” He then continued, “Do we deserve our present lives? Can anyone open the gates to a strong nation?” The following day, he was arrested and taken into police custody. The charge brought against him was that he had made too many complaints about the current situation and had profaned Great Leader and the Fatherland. His neighbors discussed the situation quietly amongst themselves. “What can they do with an elderly man? They could have ignored such a small offense. They may be looking for a bribe, because it was not a significant offense. Even healthy men suffer greatly when they are taken to the police station. I wonder if this older man will make it all right.” Everyone in the community was talking about the incident. A party leader in Pyongyang responded, “When the Social Security Department changed to the People’s Police Department, they resumed the enforcement of ‘word controls.’ The Central Party is aware of what is said about the current dire situation at people’s private gatherings. Little complaints are considered the seed of social instability. This is why they started cracking down on people.”

An Elderly Resident is Arrested for Saying “Things Were Not Even This Bad During Japanese Rule”
Han Duk-soo (70s), an elderly resident of Hamheung City, South Hamgyong Province, was taken into police custody on May 17th of this year and released three days later. On the way home from a trip to the market in Hoesang District with his neighbors, Han took a break to have an alcoholic beverage. While drinking with these neighbors, he began to complain about his present situation with a sigh. Later, he reported, “I generally can’t ever remember what I have said, especially when I’ve been drinking, but the police kept asking confess what it was I had said. For this reason, I couldn’t stand being held in the police office.” That day, he had gathered with several of the village’s elderly residents and had a long discussion about many things, including how difficult it now was to make a living. Mr. Han guessed that me must have said something like, “During the Arduous March, many people died in this part of Hamheung and, for some reason, people continue to die. Even collecting grassroots and tree bark requires making a long trip into the mountain. Old people like me would die on the road. If our children were relatively well off, it would be alright, but even they have nothing. I think the best solution would be for me to die as early as possible for the sake of our children. Even though the Party now claims times are good, things were not even this bad as this during Japanese rule.” His eldest son, Kyung-bo (50s), responded angrily, “Which part of my father’s statement profaned the Great Leader? Is saying, ‘things were not this bad during Japanese rule’ considered profaning Great Leader? He is already a weak old man and the police have caused him to suffer a great deal.”

Three Female Peddlers Arrested for Suggesting That “Ours Is Party of Empty Talk”
On May 11, food peddlers at Soonam, Chungnyun and Gongwon markets of Chungjin City, North Hamgyong Province paid a significant price for talking about the secret letter of a Party Member. After Lee Kyung-ok (pseudonym, 40s) mentioned the letter to two other peddlers, she became the subject of an investigation by the security agency. When asked what she had been speaking about by the security agents, she replied, “We spoke about a lot of different things. We didn’t talk about anything in particular.” She continued, “They claim that ours is the Party without empty talk. They mean it when they say it, but I do not believe that is true. They talk about opening the gates to a strong nation, but I am not convinced the gates will be opened. I don’t see it. The way things are going, I do not believe we can become a strong nation. As usual, our Party will be the party of empty talk.” She explained, “Apparently, word of this statement reached the security agency. Three of us were interrogated for two full days at the security agency. I do not know who the informant was. We were charged with using ‘Reactionary Words’, but they could not prove anything, so they released us on the afternoon of May 13. We received instructions that we should be careful with our words and behavior in the future.“

[Food]
At 4.25 Training Center, Delay in Food Supply for July Predicted
Regiments and battalions of 4.25 Training Center, stationed at Seoheung and Pyongsan Counties, North Hwanghae Province received word of food shortages beginning in July due to transportation problems. This news caused quite a stir among the soldiers. Military authorities of Pyongsan County Artillery Regiment and New Recruits Training Center announced that current food supplies will last through June. After Support Bureau received reports on the current situation, they assured that they would pay more attention to transportation and processing functions so as not to cause any delay. They emphasized, however, that military leaders assume responsibility for achieving a good harvest. They also sent instructions on securing milking goats and supplying goat’s milk to the soldiers as meals. They cited an example of an engineer regiment corps in 4.25 Training Center. This regiment secured eight milking goats with very effective results. There were many cases of severe malnutrition in other regiments, but almost none in this one. As a result, the goat milk movement is proceeding with vigor.

[Economy]
Kangwon Province, Sold Plowing Fuel to Purchase Food
About 70% of the plowing has been completed at farms in Kangwon Province. Many farms including Anmyun County, Pyungkang County, and Cheolwon County could not utilize their machines due to fuel shortages. Since they did not even have enough laboring bulls to pull the ploughs, they had to receive help from the soldiers stationed in nearby areas. The Farm Resource Provision Unit supplied the fuel after the plowing was completed, so the farmers sold part of their fuel supplies to feed the soldiers.

Members of the Democratic Women’s Union Fulfill Their Rice Seedling Task to Work at Their Own Businesses
Members of the Democratic Women’s Union (DWU) work hard to reach their daily goals at the farm mobilization project. In order to spend time operating their own businesses, they have to complete their assignments within the terms of their contracts. On May 22 of last year, members of the DWU from Chungnam Town Office, Soonam District spent their mornings working on rice planting, organizing seed plots and bundling rice plants. Han Keumshim (40s) explained the daily hardship by stating, “We have to finish the given task to work at our own businesses. 150 days seem like a long way to go, and rumor has it that there will be an additional 100-Day Combat right after the 150-Day Combat. It is only getting worse.” There are some women who do not participate in the farm mobilization project. They only have to pay a daily fine of about 3,000 Won to the elementary organization. Some women choose not to physically join the farm mobilization, but have instead agreed to prepare meals for the workingwomen.
Kim Mi-ok (40s), a member of DWU from Chungnam Town Office, said she pays a fine rather than work thanks to her husband who works at a foreign currency trading business.

[Politics]
In Ham-heung , Cracking Down on Drugs through September 9
City of Ham-heung in South Hamgyong province is in an intensive crack down on drugs through September 9, 2009, which is the anniversary of the date North Korea was founded. Numerous drug squad lines stretch to and from the Ham-heung station to conduct bag and body searches. The drug squads in each region interrogate, search the houses, and arrest drug trafficking suspects. The current anti-drug operations center on juvenile addiction because the mental disease caused by the addiction is believed to decrease the supply of labor. Efficacy of the drug war in some regions, however, comes under question, because the anti-drug squads neglect their duties or make a show of the anti-drug operations. Kim, Sang-ho (pseudonym, 40s) said, “Police, who might confiscate 300g of drugs with the help of an informant, for instance, pay off the informant with one-third of the drugs as a rebate. No region of the city may be completely immune from this corruption.”

[Society]
Daily Increase in Crimes Committed by Female Robbers
Number of robberies committed by women is steadily increasing all across the county. In the case of Hoeryong City in North Hamgyong Province, from February to May, the police apprehended suspects from 20 robbery cases, and 15 of which involved female suspects. In Wonsan City, Kangwon Province, even a group of female bandits was caught. One official from Wonsan commented, “Because they are not allowed to engage in commerce, young women do not hesitate to rob or assault to get money. When you listen to these women who got caught, they had been emboldened by ‘nothing to loose’ attitude that comes from seeing their husbands and parents so weak from starvation and watching their children so malnourished that their eyes get bigger. Most of the female crimes are the phenomenon which comes not from a desire to strike it rich, but from a typical choice made by women who are outside of the age limit.” The Wonsan police decided to single out and treat the female robberies as “Special Mega Cases” because the way these robberies are being committed is getting worse and worse. In May 18th, there was a robbery took place in Wonsan, where a woman wielding a knife threatened a worker, Lee, Sung-Ok (40s), who was riding a bicycle, and took his bicycle, cash and merchandises.

“Solving the Nation’s Food Crisis, Is It the Job Only for the Poor?”
On May 22nd, in Onsung County, North Hamgyong Province, a group of women from the farming mobilization went to the chairwoman of Democratic Women’s Union and strongly protested about the unfairness of those who do not work at the mobilization because they paid 20,000 NK Won. The women told the chairwoman, “Why is solving the nation’s food crisis the job only for the poor? Those who are rich and eating well must have the strength to work much better than us. Is 150-Day Battle a battle to offer money? How come those with money do not have to work while those without have to work so much?” One woman yelled, “How can a poor person survive in this unjust world?” and burst into loud sobs. Because their demonstration caused much disturbance and lasted a whole day (with no one going to work at the mobilization), the county party workers came and tried to calm them, but their effort yielded little to no result. Once the police got involved, however, the women began to settle down.

A Repercussion Spreads in Haeju City as a Veteran Dies of Hunger
A big repercussion spreads in Haeju City, South Hwanghae Province, because of an incident where Lee, Man-Bok, who was 83 years old this year, died of prolonged hunger on last May 1st. Lee, Man-Bok was a war veteran who had participated in the Korean War during the 1950s. After this incident, Han, Sung-Kuk (pseudonym, 80s), who used to be a regimental commander at the time of the war, went to the Provincial Party in South Hwanghae Province with several other senior war veterans. He remonstrated against neglecting a few remaining veterans from starving to death. Further, he pleaded that the food at least in the amount of 15 days be distributed before everyone perishes with hunger. Thereafter, the Provincial Party received food donations from trade companies that deals with marine products and on May 14th, began the distribution to the senior war veterans. The Grain Administration Department of the People’s Assembly in Haeju City received a list of senior veterans from the district office and issued a food supply certification. On last May 15th, Kwon, Chun-Kil (80s) went to the Haean Dong Distribution Center and received pure grains. Mr. Kwon said “I feel grateful because I will be able to live with this for some time, even though the distribution was only for oneself and not for the family”.

[Women/Children/Education]
Mobilized University Students Commute from School to Farms Due to Lack of Food
Students of universities or colleges in the North Hwanghae Province are commuting from their schools to the farms in order to help out in the fields. Last year, students were provided with food and housing from the farms. Unfortunately this year, the students must take care of their meals and stay at school because the farms cannot provide food for them. For lunch, students bring powdered cornmeal from their dining halls and the farmers take turns providing salted daikons and bean paste soup. Due to the combination of insufficient meals and hard labor from morning to night, students are becoming increasingly exhausted and undergoing all sorts of hardships.

Middle School Students Bring Lunch
Students at the Number One Middle School in Sariwon of the Northern Hwanghae Province are taking lunch to school during the farming mobilization period. The school has informed students to eat breakfast and dinner at home, but to pack their own lunch and bring it for the mobilization. Originally, the government is supposed to provide the students with lunch during the mobilization. Lim Ju-hee (alias, 30’s), a teacher at a middle school in Sariwon, says, “Each student receives 133 grams of whole corn for each meal. This is what a whole class is given to eat together for a single meal. There are about 30 students per class during the entire farming mobilization. Many of the students prepare lunches for teachers. Some of the well-off families add rice to the corn to make teachers’ lunches, while other poor families put a lot of beans into the rice. Since all of the families can prepare tofu soup, they all compete to give the best lunch for the teachers. Because of that, I can have a decent lunch.”
Jang Ock-ran (40’s), a mother of an eighth grader, says, “The students just want a good lunch for their teachers regardless of their family’s financial situations. Some mothers even get into debt in order to provide a good lunch and not to disappoint their children. Since the students work until 8 o’clock in the evening, rich families pack snacks such as rice cake and flour bread for their children to eat during the 4 o’clock snack time. Poor families pack snacks such as corn bread and powdered rice cake. My daughter says that some of her friends in the coed class cry and ask their parents not to pack them powdered rice cake because it is embarrassing for them. The children are so childish that they have no idea how difficult it is for their parents to even prepare the powdered rice cake.”

[Accidents]
All Passengers Killed on Ship Headed to South Korea by Cannon Fire
Last May, Ri Ok-Hwa, (alias, age 20s) who was working for the Fisheries Enterprise in the Oongjin County of South Hwanghae Province was killed while fleeing to South Korea with two other male workers. The three people were working on an 8-horsepower ship when they decided to flee and head towards South Korea. Their actions were quickly reported to the naval officers who quickly followed after them. The naval officers made the decision that it would be too difficult to capture them when the ship was about to pass the territorial seas of North Korea. So, they fired a cannon. Three shots were fired and the ship was left in pieces. It was later confirmed that none of the passengers on the ship survived.

Kangsun Chunlima Steel Enterprise, Safety Accidents Happened
Last May 14th, an accident occurred because of careless work at Chunlima steel mill of Gangsun County in South Pyongan Province. Laborers replacing rolls of hot rolling mill at this factory were crushed under a machine. Three laborers who were working died at the spot, and one was wounded so severely that his limbs were amputated. The engineers commanding the site at that time was arrested immediately and held responsible for the accident.

[Commentary]
“Reactionary Words” Needs to Be Clearly Defined
The term “Reactionary Words” refers to crimes involving blaming the North Korean political system, speaking ill of the Great Leader, or making any other politically unacceptable statements. When a person can be punished for uttering a few poor chosen words, they are being denied their basic freedom of self-expression. While punishment for such an offense is the norm, the actual term “Reactionary Words” appears nowhere to be found in the North Korean penal code. Article 10 defines the “Concept of Crime” as “an act dangerous enough to cause, intentionally or unintentionally, an infringement on the State’s sovereignty, the institutions of socialism or, legal orders.” (Revised 2005) It is generally assumed that the concept of “Reactionary Words” is considered a part of this broad definition of crime. While it is generally claimed that, for an act to be considered a criminal offense, the culprit’s intentions must be established, North Korea’s track record of punishment suggests a different standard is being upheld in the country.

“Good Friends, Inc” interviewed approximately 25,000 defectors from North Korea between June 1997 and March 2000. From these interviews, there were numerous examples of individuals who received jail time for saying something as benign as, “All of us Koreans will die of starvation if this continues.” A male in his forties from Hongwon County received a 40-day jail sentence for remarking “When will the agony end? The sooner this all collapses, the better.” He secured his released by paying a bribe, but he developed schizophrenia from the torture he received. Others examples of statements that elicited harsh punishments are: “In China, even dogs are fed white rice. Here humans cannot even afford a bowl of vegetable porridge. How are we going to survive?”, “Our republic is getting worse day by day” and “Everyone seems to be dying in my daughter’s neighborhood.” An extreme example of enforcement is the story of two close friends who said to each other, “Let’s meet again when a better time comes” and were subsequently labeled “reactionaries.”

None of these examples involved anyone who was looking to promote anti-state propaganda or encourage a “political revolt”. There is nothing in any of their statements that, intentionally or unintentionally, defiles the institution of socialism or the rule of law. They simply serve as examples of how people lead their lives when they have to watch their neighbors starve to death while they are unable to even afford a meager bowl of porridge. These individuals were so frustrated and desperate that they naturally complaining about their lives from time to time. In the past, with the high level of social unrest, it made sense that the state would take firm steps to keep society under control, but why do they still enforce these measures?

While it is not entirely clear which specific clauses are violated by statements like “Can anyone open the gates to a strong nation?”, “Things were not even this bad during Japanese rule” and “Our party is full of empty talk”, it is indisputable that criticism and curses aimed at party leaders are considered a more significant offenses. In many ways, the current situation represents an improvement over the past when it comes to the freedom of expression. Even though all the individuals in this article said things that resulted in their arrests, many ware released after two to three days upon receiving ideological instructions, which might be considered “mild measures.” In this respect, things might be considered improving.

We hope that eventually residents’ speech will not be controlled at all and that the mutual surveillance system will be abolished; a system under which everyone is expected to eavesdrop on everyone else as an informant of the government. If it is difficult to abolish the institutions now, the government should at least clarify the criteria used to determine what are considered “reactionary words”. When “reactionary words” are punishable, the government can keep people silent, but how will they be able to silence people’s minds up, which are filled with concerns that these punishments are not fair. The punishment of “reactionary words” should clearly be reconsidered if the country hopes to maintain the nation’s socialist order.
There was an error in this gadget