GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 350 July 2010

[“Good Friends” aims to help the North Korean people from a humanistic point of view and publishes “North Korea Today” describing the way the North Korean people live as accurately as possible. We at Good Friends also hope to be a bridge between the North Korean people and the world.]
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Relatives of Park Nam-Ki Transferred to the 22nd Detention Center in Hoeryong
Price of Salt more than 8 Times Higher for Households in the 16th Hwasung Detention Center
Kkotjebis are Gathering Again at Shinsungchun Station
Kkotjebis at Shinsungchun Murdered a Female Vendor for her Knapsack

[Editorial]
North Korea Should Abolish Its Public Execution Practices
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Relatives of Park Nam-Ki Transferred to the 22nd Detention Center in Hoeryong
On June 14th, relatives of Park Nam-Ki, former Minister of National Planning and Financial Affairs, who was executed after taking blame for the currency exchange debacle last year, and relatives of other relevant officials – a total of 34 households – were all transferred to the 22nd detention center within the Hoeryong Unit under the instruction of the 3rd office of the National Security Agency. They were allowed to carry simple luggage such as bedding and toiletries under the control of the People’s Safety Agency, but that has changed since they were transferred to the detention center. A cadre of the Safety Bureau reported that “all of them, including the sick, were transported in prisoner transportation vans (with roofs) under the pretext of attending an evening meeting.” He also added that “they were transported discretely in the middle of the night so as not to provoke international outcry regarding North Korea’s violations of human rights.” The 22nd detention center is located in Hoeryong city; 8 prisoner transportation vans and 3 fully armed military trucks were used for the transportation at issue.

Price of Salt more than 8 Times Higher for Households in the 16th Hwasung Detention Center
Rules under the aegis of the 16th unit Safety Agency of Hwasung County of North Hamgyong Province are different from those under the control of the National Security Agency. Inmates are mainly offenders who committed economic crime or relatives of fugitives who have fled to South Korea. Although quarantined, they could watch television and engage in farm work for pay. Households that are able to work make their living off of the earnings, but families that are not able to work mainly eat porridge. Last May and June, they suffered because there was a lack of basic foods such as soy sauce, soybean paste, and salt. Families in quarantine cannot go out and obtain salt. Taking advantage of this situation, wives of the detention center officials would acquire salt from markets outside and sell them to the detained families at a much higher price. Shin, Myong-hee (alias), a family member of a detention center official said that she buys salt at 70 won per kg and sells 1 kg for 3 kg of corn to the families at the detention center, which earns more than eight-fold profit.

Kkotjebis are Gathering Again at Shinsungchun Station
Many travelers gather at Shinsungchun Station at Sungchun County in South Pyongan Province because of its proximity to a triangular junction extending over the east, south, and north. Because of the large number of travelers, many kkotjebis (wandering homeless) from different regions flock to the station and stay there permanently. Despite the fact that poor business conditions this year led to a substantial decline in the number of train passengers, the number of kkotjebis continues to increase.

The majority of kkotjebis are children, but kkotjebis over 40 years old have been seen more frequently this year. The number of kkotjebis belonging to the same family is increasing. Usually, kkotjebis travel in groups of 20 people. In the Shinsungchun Station area, three or four groups of kkotjebis are bunched together. The 3-4 member kkotjebi family units often move independently from the large groups. The age of kkotjebis ranges from 6 or 7 year-old children to adults in their late 50s. With the increase in the number of kkotjebis, the crimes rate in the station area is rising.

Kkotjebis at Shinsungchun Murdered a Female Vendor for her Knapsack
On the evening of the June 16th, a murder occurred in a neighborhood near the Shinsungchun Station. A background check revealed that the victim was a 31-year-old woman who lived in Kwail in Kwail County. She was murdered while traveling on a business trip. The authorities investigating the incident conducted overnight patrols to catch the suspects. They arrested three adult male kkotjebis based on tip offs.

The kkotjebis confessed to the murder soon after their capture. The detainees stated that they followed and attacked the victim when she was looking for an inn, carrying a heavy knapsack on her back. According to their statement, there were a large number of shoes in the knapsack including 25 pairs of Kkachi Shoes (까치신발) made in Sinuiju and 30 pairs of male sneakers and 50 pieces of “spring-scent” facial soaps. The kkotjebis dumped the body in a nearby public restroom and fled with her knapsack, a watch, and cash amounting to 230,000 NK Won.

After this incident, the Safety Bureau in South Pyongan Province ordered the arrest of all kkotjebi staying in Shinsungchun. The majority of kkotjebis immediately left the station upon learning this news. About 12 kkotjebis who were arrested were still in detention at the train station police department as of late June 2010. New kkotjebis are expected to gather again at the station when the latest crackdown dies down, because the nearby market and the train station are the only places where kkotjebis can get food.

[Editorial]
North Korea Should Abolish Its Public Execution Practices
It is reported that the North Korean authorities have publicly executed Park Nam-ki, the former Director of Planning in the Financial Department of the Central Party, along with 13 others, for their failure in the currency reform effort. Even worse, his family and relatives up to seventh degree of kinship were supposedly rounded up and sent off to forced labor camps for political prisoners. Park's public execution was witnessed by mid-level officials in Pyongyang, Department of Production under the Cabinet, and other director or higher level officials. Park's list of offenses covered nine separate charges, including having filed a false report stating, "The underlying potential of the nation's economy has strengthened, with 3 years worth of food and 4 years worth of essential goods at hand." Other charges included impeding NK-China relationship improvement through the policy of stopping cross-border trade, as well as being co-opted by those engaged in ideological sedition. In order to soothe the people's disgruntlement rising out of the currency reform, the authorities circulated documents justifying Park's execution to each local party office.

However, the reactions of the officials forced to witness the execution tell a whole different story. They were lifelong colleagues of Park and others who were executed, who knew Park as someone who devoted all his life to North Korea’s planned economy with dedication and diligence. The witnessing officials were enraged at the public, made-for-example execution of Park as a scapegoat. While ordinary citizens might have had their blood thirst for the currency reform debacle satiated with Park’s death, the officials felt this execution hit close to home, complaining, “What did we ever do wrong?”

North Korean authorities traditionally maintained control over its society during crisis by targeting officials and foreign trading officials. Just to name a few examples from recent years, the president of Reungla 88 Company in Yeonsa County, president of Soonchun Vinalon Factory, and manager of Soonchun Stone works Factory all met their deaths through gruesome public executions. As such, the recent execution of Park Nam-ki and the forced banishment of his family to the labor camps is only the latest of North Korea’s punishment tradition. But it’s becoming apparent that these methods are being counterproductive. Even the central party officials are fearful and resentful over the possibility that they could be made into scapegoats overnight because of policy failures. Their shared thinking is that “What good is there to serve as a faithful public servant to a nation that could accuse you of sedition the next day? Even worse, what need is there to loyally serve a government that can’t even provide food?” With such mindset, they all believe that it’s foolish to answer the nation’s call for frontline leadership and sacrifice; in fact, answering such call would only hasten their deaths.

This is especially dire today ever since the May 26 official party directives asking local units to take care of the food situation by themselves. To make this possible, sincere and diligent efforts by the officials are crucial. However, not much can be expected from the officials in the absence of guarantee of their personal safety and security. Therefore, the North Korean authorities should reserve punishment for officials only for cases of personal corruption or criminal activities and not punish individual officials for policy failures. And even in cases of personal corruption, the accused officials should be dealt with according to existing laws, not publicly executed as an example. Especially, the practice of extending the blame to extended family of the accused should immediately be abolished.

North Korean authorities should, for the sake of justifying their rule, maintaining power, and enhancing political effectiveness, respect procedural democracy and the rule of law. Only then will the government attain the respect of the officials.

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