GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 421 September 21, 2011

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[Intro]
Intensive Inspection Nationwide at Full Force
Complaints Galore With Severity in Inspections
People Vanish After Charges of Espionage
Officials Shaken Up by the Political Purge
South Korean items found in customs Mean Handcuffs
“All families are now Isan Gajok” in North Korea
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[Intro]
The North Korean government is in midst of its effort for generational change of its officials. The reason behind it is to form a set of officials loyal to the head of the state, but the harshness of the process brings the worry that even those officials who are already loyal may turn their back from the current government. When it comes to building “a strong and prosperous nation,” support from its people is a must. The recent reshuffling of officials in a manner such hurried worries many people since it may lower the loyalty among the official instead of boosting it. The North Korean leadership needs to be more careful with its agenda, and it should put an end to making more scapegoats.


Intensive Inspection Nationwide at Full Force
An intensive inspection on the government officials has started nationwide since August 20. Although some departments such as the Ministry of Foreign trade were already under inspection beforehand, full-scale inspection began in the end of August for most places. Whereas previous inspections were focused on setting examples to others by punishing a few corrupt officials, a substantial number of current officials are dismissed or discharged and new officers are taking the place this time. As officials from the Central Party say, it seems that the purpose of the inspection is to pave a way toward a generational change among government officials. At least half, or perhaps all of the existing officials, are expected to be replaced. The Security Department, police stations, and the public prosecutors’ offices are no exceptions, and they are inspected by the Security Headquarters. Almost all high-ranking officers in the provinces are also on the inspection list. Officers who are not found to have any corruption charges upon scrutiny are either suspended from performing their duties or transferred to a higher government body. Once they are summoned to a higher government body, they are unable to do anything until the investigation is over, regardless of whether it would last a month or two. The officials are also sometimes instructed to stop from working their duties and stay in the designated area to the same effect. Any illegal activities and the alleged corruption of the individual are thoroughly investigated once they stop performing their duties. Officials who are suspended from work wait for the result of the investigation anxiously. “The inspection is in progress with determination to complete every inspection before the Party Foundation Day (on October 10), and to transform the group into one that is entirely and completely loyal to the Party and the leader,” says an official from the Central Party.


Complaints Galore With Severity in Inspections
Currently ongoing inspections of various kind has left the atmosphere among government officials tense. Many officials have been arrested unexpectedly, and those who have not been arrested fear that they will be. The government has seen an increasing number of complaints from family members regarding the harsh interrogation techniques used during prejudication procedures, which inflict severe pain or injury on the officials. For example, an official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was arrested upon returning from his overseas work. After undergoing ten days of heavy interrogation, he lost so much weight that his family could hardly recognize him. The ten day detention left him completely exhausted. Upon arriving home, he fell into a deep, long sleep. His family was very concerned about him, because severe interrogation methods including torture reportedly killed some officials. The arbitrary prejudication procedure involving heavy interrogation faces backlash even from ordinary citizens who ordinarily have not been sympathetic to public officials. The citizens say, “Government does not only fail to feed its people, but also torture them to death. Given the way it treats public officials, it will treat ordinary citizens even worse.” In response to the backlash, the Central Party instructed security forces to refrain from harsh interrogation techniques including physical violence and torture.. This order reflection an attitude much more lenient than the prior order that encouraged security forces to root out any activities inconsistent with socialism.


People Vanish After Charges of Espionage
Border towns such as Shinuiju (North Pyongan province), Hyesan (Ryanggang province), and Musan, Hoeryong, Onsung (North Hamgyong province) have started cracking down cellular phone users, brokers who facilitate illicit border crossing, people who run errands from South Korea, and drug dealers. The crackdown on cellular phone users starting in Shinuiju scared many officials at the overseas reprentatives. They normally communicate with the headquarters and their family through the residents in Shinuiju about matters that were mostly personal. If people who facilitated the communication in the middle are interrogated, there is a risk that all personal matters related to the official may be revealed. According to a Central Party official, this ongoing investigation is mainly targeted to detect acts of espionage and no one will easily get away from this exercise. Those who had been interrogated and punished in last two years are also re-investigated. “This crackdown mainly targets government officials, politicians, and military officials, but civilians are also under scrutiny. Since the investigation is targeted toward almost anyone, the number of people found to have engaged in illegal activities is high. Since the government aims to identify people who have communicated with defectors and overseas espionage network through this exercise, if someone is caught with an unregistered phone, that person is doomed to be arrested for further investigation regardless of political background or status. The investigators initially scrutinize phone conversation record for the past ten days, and if doubts still remain, they go through several months of the record additionally,” he explained.

There is not much room for excuse for those overseas representative officials whose phone records are scrutinized. As a Central Party official says, “If the people above want to end their career, then it will be done.” Those who have protected overseas representatives so far such as public prosecutors and public safety officers are helpless while they are under inspection themselves by the General Guard Command. The bloodthirsty scrutiny is in progress, giving the impression that no matter how high the political status of the accused may be, he will vanish with charges of treason and no one will know whether he would be dead or alive. An official from Hyesan says, “With the current insepction, no one, whether officials or others, can’t even budge. Any phone users are charged with treason, and headquarters people who communicated with overseas staff for matters regarding trade are not exceptions. People from the Ministry of Foreign Trade are suspended or dismissed from their work at minimum even without serious questions about their loyalty, and more problematic cases are transferred to the General Guard Command by the inspections team. The General Guard Command is the most fearsome place. Once anyone goes in, no one comes out. Those who go in are thought to be executed or taken elsewhere with no trace.”


Officials Shaken Up by the Political Purge
Government officials, undergoing the current political purge, are totally speechless. So long as the Party decided to remove undesirable officials, nobody can possibly avoid this. Officials in Pyongyang describe this investigation by saying “The whole nation is like a bunch of thin, dry firewood. People are so fragile and thin that a only little bit of pressure breaks them. On the other hand, the entire nation would be on fire with if ignited somewhere.” Although it is uncertain what the fuse would be, things may head to an unexpected direction with the possibility of an uprising among those who are suppressed under the current political brutality.

One Pyongyang official said, “It reminds me of a purge during the Great Leader’s time. There was a time that so many people were either executed or simply disappeared in the effort to eliminate political enemies. I heard officials saying that they are scared and afraid of the future. If this is the way officials feel, can you image how horrifying it must be to civilians then? Although we are told this will go on only until October, we’ll never know how many people will be killed and tortured until the succession process is completely finished. I am terrified just thinking about it,” and he shook his head hopelessly. Even though the unrest and discontent among officials are growing, the Party believes that there is little possibility the disturbance among officials would cause an actual uprising, since no one wants to be on the front line. Therefore, the group uprising is not a possibility. Who would stand up for an uprising when they see people disappearing without trace? Party officials replaced into new positions are taking advantage of the fear in the air to maintain public stability.


South Korean Items Found in Customs Mean Handcuffs
Border customs have become busier than ever. The number of people who are summoned back into the country from overseas and those who are coming back voluntarily has increased sharply, crowding the customs. In the customs, 24 hour surveillance teams have been formed due to the concern that people will try to escape with their families. Many were arrested because South Korea drama and music CDs. Since a lot of them had been traveling overseas in a relatively unrestricted manner, they tend not to pay much attention to what they put into their bags. If the inspectors find CDs containing South Korean music or movies from their lugguage, the person is immediately handcuffed and arrested. Unlike the way it way in the past, the officials do not take bribes, and they confiscate even the smallest items such as nail clippers and pens in case they are from South Korea. Also, as censorship is getting stricter, the value of South Korean products is increasing. The merchants in China who deal with North Korean smugglers used to take off South Korean tags from the product they sell. However, now that items with South Korean tags sell for more, the merchants in North Korea now ask the smugglers to keep the tags on. The high profit promised in the case that smugglers are not caught with the items with South Korean tags make people to take risk.


“All families are now Isan Gajok*” in North Korea
(*Note from the translator: The Korean term Isan Gajok refers to families whose members were dispersed in North and South Korea after the Korean War, left without means of communication.)

With a variety of inspections and travel restrictions are in place in the entire country, there is a new saying that goes “All families are now Isan Gajok” in North Korea. Travelling to other places is now completely unimaginable to the most, and many do not even know what goes on in the county right next to theirs. The only available news are those circulated informally by officials who can travel. Unless they live within the same area, even parents and children, or sibling cannot see each other. One official working for the provincial party in North Hamgyong Province said, “The delayed restoration in the area where there is no transportation and communication services due to flood disaster is one reason for families having a difficult time seeing each other, but the main reason is the harsh travel restriction imposed as all kinds of national inspections were put in effect. People lived without seeing their family members each other during the Arduous March in the 1990s, and now the same thing is repeating itself.”

Another official of Central Party said, “With the rigor of the current inspection, even the Security Department officers or police officers cannot travel freely. Even in the instances of business trips, the destination and the identification of the traveller must be registered and approved multiple times. The vehicles or officials with a special pass are not harshly inspected, but the other officials are subject to a thorough inspection. When the inspection to law enforcement officials are this harsh, not much needs to be said about the situation for powerless civilians. Unless they have a special reason, it is not possible for people see each other. The more fortunate can telephone to their family to say hi, but it is still difficult to see them in person. The entire nation of North Korea indeed became one big Isan Gajok."

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