South Korea’s Ministry of Unification will launch on Monday a new web portal focused on North Korea.
The North Korea Information Portal, or NK Info for short, is intended to provide South Koreans with up to date information on the DPRK, the Unification Ministry said.
Here are some screenshots of what you can expect from Monday, January 27:
The verdict, which likely comes as no surprise to anyone that watches the country, was included in the New York-based group’s annual “World Report” on human rights in countries around the world.
“The government continues to impose totalitarian rule,” the report said. More >
Bitcoin has arrived in North Korea … sort of.
A tourist on a trip to Pyongyang used the Koryolink mobile Internet service to make what is supposedly the first transaction in the country using the virtual currency.
The U.S. government’s case against two Taiwanese businessmen accused of attempting to illegally exporting machinery to North Korea continues its slow path towards a trial.
Hsien Tai “Alex” Tsai, 67, and his son, Yueh Hsun “Gary” Tsai, 36, were arrested and charged in May last year. Alex Tsai was in Estonia at the time and subsequently extradited to the U.S.
The Federal Bureau of Investigations laid out in indictments a plan to obtain and export precision metal fabrication equipment from the U.S. with assistance of several companies in Taiwan. The machinery could be used in the production of weapons of mass destruction, according to the FBI.
The U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Illinois held a status conference on Thursday where the U.S. Government filed an updated notice of intent to use material gathered under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
An original notice filed with the court in June said the U.S. would use in the case or submit into evidence material obtained from electronic surveillance gathered under FISA.
The updated notice adds material gathered through physical surveillance authorized under FISA.
The court is scheduled to hold its next status conference in April.
Twenty balloons, each carrying several large bags of propaganda materials, were launched on Wednesday from Paju, close to the inter-Korean border, according to Human Rights Foundation, a New York-based NGO that focuses on closed societies.
“These balloons are an information lifeline to ordinary North Koreans, who have no means to learn about the world beyond the lies of their government,” said Thor Halvorssen, president of HRF in a statement.
The bags collectively contained around 500,000 leaflets, DVDs with South Korean TV dramas, radios that can be tuned to listen to foreign broadcasts and the USB sticks, said HRF.
Balloon launches across the border have been going on for several years. The bags of propaganda typically have timers that release their contents at preset times when they are likely to be over North Korean territory.
The hope of the human rights groups that launch them is that the contents of the bags scatter over a wide are and are picked up, read and used by North Korean citizens.
HRF said it had originally planned to launch materials across the border in June 2013, but the launch was blocked by South Korean police. At the time, North Korea’s state media issued threats against groups planning the balloon launch and the South Korean government prevented it from happening apparently to reduce tensions between the two countries.
The group promised to continue its efforts this year and said it would “expand its support for technologies and initiatives aimed at disrupting the North Korean regime.”
The European Alliance for Human Rights in North Korea (EAHRNK) says the BBC can’t prove whether a hypothetical Korean service would be jammed or not.
Jamming is the deliberate broadcasting of an interfering radio signal on the same channel as a targeted program so it becomes unlistenable.
Shortwave radio is one of the few ways that up-to-date information gets into North Korea and the government engages in aggressive jamming against most broadcasts.
The possibility of jamming and the inability of the North Korean people to hear and broadcasts was one of several issues cited by the BBC as reasons why it will not launch broadcasts in Korean.
Michael Glendinning, a founder of EAHRNK, acknowledges that the authorities might try to target a BBC Korean service, but he thinks the program content would make it less likely to be completely jammed.
“The existing English-language service is perfectly audible in North Korea,” he said. “If the transmitters which are used to broadcast the English service are used and the content remains neutral, the regime would not be so intent to jam it to the same extent as existing Korean-language broadcasting.”
There is some evidence to support his assertion.
The stations most heavily targeted are those run by the South Korean intelligence services, followed by broadcasts from KBS, Voice of America and Radio Free Asia. The handful of private stations targeting North Korea are less severely jammed, sometimes only during certain programming.
But the definition of “neutral” is relative, so it’s unclear whether the North Korean government would allow BBC programming, no matter how neutral it is by journalistic standards.
Several groups have called on the BBC to launch a Korean-language service and the corporation did undertake a study, according to a letter sent by British Foreign Secretary William Hague to a U.K. Parliamentary committee.
The letter cited several reasons why the BBC had decided not to go ahead with Korean broadcasts:
“he BBC keeps stating that a major factor in not moving ahead is that the South Korean government [will] make it hard for them to broadcast from South Korea,” said Glendinning.
“This isn’t an issue because the existing signal can be picked up in North Korea, so there’s no need to go ahead with trying to get around the South Korean government’s apathy. If the North Koreans will block the signal from South Korea, the chances are they’ll block from elsewhere, so it’s not really much of an issue to broadcast it from South East Asia.”
Much of the BBC’s current output on shortwave to Asia comes from transmitters in Thailand and Singapore.
The EAHRNK produced a report late last year that puts it case for a Korean-language service.
The app, iJuche, was developed and published in late 2013 and was highlighted on NorthKoreaTech earlier this week. That publicity was apparently enough to get it blocked.
“I just got a call from a person at Apple informing me that iJuche has been found to be in violation of South Korea’s “National Security Law” and has been removed from the South Korean App Store,” said Peter Curtis, the developer of the app.
Users in South Korea that have already downloaded a copy of iJuche, or those with App Store subscriptions in other countries, should still be able to access news through the app, but new users won’t find it available for download in the Korean App Store.
South Korea’s National Security Law is a decades-old law that bans anti-state acts that endanger national security. In recent years, this has been used to ban the redistribution of North Korean propaganda on the Internet.
That means many websites from North Korean and those sympathetic to the country are blocked from local Internet users. It’s also been used to prosecute local Internet users who re-distribute North Korean content, sometimes by simply posting it on a website.
The law has many critics who maintain it restricts freedom of speech and doesn’t belong in a modern, developed society like the South Korea of today.
To-date, most of the sites and services blocked under the law have been those in Korean, although late last year a portion of the NK News website was also cut off from South Korean Internet connections.
KCNA Watch, a service developed by New Zealand-based Frank Feinstein, collates the daily output of KCNA from its website and makes it easy to navigate and search. It’s often easier to find articles on KCNA Watch than through the official KCNA website, and Feinstein’s site maintains the original versions of stories.
The importance of that feature was highlighted last month when KCNA deleted hundreds of articles mentioning Jang Song Thaek, the purged uncle of Kim Jong Un. The articles remain available through KCNA Watch.
The harsh, closed world of North Korea and the lengths the state goes to keep people under control reached primetime television in the U.S. on Tuesday evening. Frontline, the premiere news documentary program of the U.S. Public Broadcasting System (PBS) network, aired an edition focused on the DPRK called “Secret State of North Korea.”
For North Korea to get such primetime coverage is relatively rare in the U.S. The country typically only breaks onto American television screens when the North Korean government says something particularly provocative, and then its fodder for the non-stop news networks.
In its Tuesday evening documentary, Frontline did a good job of presenting the reality of today’s North Korea without relying on the tired, over-used excesses of the country.
The show begins with Jiro Ishimaru traveling in a car in China near the North Korean border. Ishimaru runs Asiapress, an Osaka-based news agency that specializes in undercover reporting from North Korea.
I wrote about Ishimaru and Asiapress back in November 2010 when he spoke in Tokyo. He has a network of North Koreans who have been provided with digital video cameras and have been taught basic video techniques.
His contacts smuggle the footage out of the country at great personal risk to themselves and Ishimaru edits it, ensures that the identity of the people filming the video cannot be deduced, and then sells it to TV stations in Japan and around the world.
It’s a unique, one-of-a-kind operation and the documentary relied heavily on his footage.
A couple of video clips used in a trailer for the program were not new. I’d seen them in 2010 when Ishimaru spoke in Tokyo, and I feared the program wouldn’t bring anything new. But those fears were misplaced.
Despite some of the clips being several years old, others were new and all provided a fascinating glimpse inside the DPRK to areas that few if any foreigners ever see.
The program introduces us to defectors that have escaped to Seoul, including some that run Open Radio for North Korea. That’s one of the handful of radio stations that broadcast programming into North Korea each day via shortwave.
For anyone interested in technology, one of the most interesting parts concerns a defector that, once in Seoul, has decided to start sending movies, TV shows and other content back into the country.
He does this by copying movies — we heard he had just sent a James Bond movie in — onto DVDs and USB sticks. In one scene, he meets a contact on the Chinese border and hands over a bag of media and DVD players to be taken into the country.
And then we’re taken into a North Korean home were two young women are watching one of the DVDs. That’s a particularly fascinating scene.
For North Korean watchers, the program might not have produced many surprises or brought any new ideas, but it’s worth remembering that specialists are not the target audience.
The vast majority of those watching probably didn’t know much about the country and the issues involved beyond the usual headlines about “tensions rising on the Korean peninsula.” I’ve spoken to several such people who watched the program and they all thoroughly enjoyed it.
The documentary was produced by Hardcash Productions in London and originally aired on Channel 4’s Dispatches in the U.K. under the name “Life Inside the Secret State.”
It can now be viewed on the Frontline website, is available on the Frontline iTunes channel or can be purchased from PBS as a DVD.