Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Evil in action

Whilst the world focuses on Libya, another dictatorship is mistreating families for propaganda purposes in a way that is undeniably despicable and outright evil.   It is yet another story of south Korea vs north Korea.

In early February, a DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) fishing boat drifted across the military demarcation line that unofficially marks the line of control between the ROK (Republic of Korea) and the DPRK.  The boat was intercepted by the ROK navy and the 31 people questioned.  The ROK determined quickly that the boat was genuinely lost and was not part of any covert military mission, so they were all given the option as to whether they wished to return to the DPRK or not.  27 chose to return, 4 chose to defect to the ROK. 

The ROK decided that on 4 March, the 27 people who wished to return would be handed over to the UN command at the Korean De-Militarised Zone (DMZ) at Panmunjom, to be handed over to the DPRK authorities.   The DPRK refused to accept them, demanding that all 31 people be returned.

So it began.

The ROK view was fairly simple.  The ship innocently drifted into southern waters in bad weather, and those aboard would be given a choice about where they wanted to go.  Freedom.  As simple as that.   

Of course, the DPRK doesn't make it quite that simple.   For the people who choose to stay in the south, their families face intense difficulties.  They will be labelled as being related to politically unsafe individuals, which will mean they too are unsafe.  They can face being forcibly relocated, losing their employment and homes, and being interrogated about their defecting relatives.  They are put under constant suspicion, for the fear is that they too will defect.   Some face imprisonment as a result, and a north Korean gulag is sheer hell.

Even those who return face difficulties.

According to Daily NK:
One defector who used to work as an NSA agent explained, “The NSA will accuse them of responsibility for the defection of the other four, demanding to know why they didn’t persuade them otherwise,” adding, “There must be at least one Party cell secretary among the 31. Those people will definitely be targets for criticism.”.  Such interrogations generally take around a month. After that, the repatriated individuals have to sign a written oath not to disclose what they have heard and seen in South Korea, and will then be allowed to return to their homes, in this case in Hwanghae Province.

Defectors unanimously agree that the fishermen will thereafter be closely monitored by agents of the NSA, People’s Safety Agency, and chairmen of their local people’s unit on the basis that the authorities think they could cause ideological unrest after being exposed to South Korean society.

Damned either way of course.

The DPRK view naturally is different.  The idea the regime could ever countenance that people could defect from a perfect society is ludicrous.  So it says

"It is sheer nonsense for the south Korean authorities to talk about "defection" and the like by four of them.

The unreasonable attitude of the south Korean authorities is touching off bitter anger among the people in the DPRK. The families and relatives of the inhabitants now under custody there are eagerly waiting for them to come back as early as possible.

On top of that, the DPRK Red Cross, which has always been completely in collusion with the regime (not disowned by the ICRC), has even been threatening according to the Korean Central News Agency:

The detained citizens have made clear their stand to go back to the DPRK from the outset and demanded their early repatriation. Nevertheless, the south side claims that it will not send some of them, talking about "defection" and "respect for freedom of will." Such attempt can never be allowed as it is a very unreasonable and rude act contrary to humanitarianism and international usage. 

Worse still, the south side has resorted to a sinister "defection operation", taking those citizens to different places all the while. This fact is arousing anger of everyone.

Their repatriation is an important matter related to the north-south relations rather than a humanitarian issue, the message said, warning:

If the south side does not comply with this just demand of the DPRK, it will be held wholly accountable for the consequences arising therefrom. 
Next time the Red Cross asks you for money (and given that almost everywhere it does remarkably good work), ask the representative about whether any of it is going to the north Korean Red Cross and explain why it shouldn't.

So a stalemate has emerged.  The DPRK has demanded that there be a face to face meeting between the families of all of the people, and the men themselves, at the Neutral Nations Supervisory Committee meeting rooms at Panmunjom.   The idea being to get the four people who wish to defect to be weakened by seeing their distressed family members, as well as to produce propaganda to paint the ROK in a bad light.

So the DPRK has instead released a video showing the family members reading out prepared statements, and clearly terrified.  Their statements go along lines as follows "She grew up in a good system where she had no real worries and could enjoy learning" and

"My husband is not that kind of person; I trust in this because he is someone who got a scholarship from Han Deok Su Industrial University, studied, has the honor of being a Party member and became a cadre, always working faithfully for the fatherland, people, Party and Suryeong" (Suryeong means "Great Leader").

This brutal prison state cannot conceive of how people may choose, even knowing the consequences for their loved ones, to leave it and live somewhere where their lives ARE their own.  A place where your home, employment, relationships, travel, reading and activities are not decided, monitored and controlled by the state.  So it cynically uses the families of those who wish to defect, to emotionally plead with the defector to return to the prison state - the defectors knowing too well that if they don't return, it will mean being hassled, possibly imprisoned and certainly materially deprived because of "guilt by association".

That's the difference between freedom and sacrificing your life for the "greater good". 

The ROK government gave all of the people on the fishing boat the choice to stay in south Korea or return to north Korea, patently without coercion.  It has forced no defections, as is seen by most willing to return to the DPRK - simply because family ties are too important, and for fear of what would happen to them.   Those who choose to stay in the south have done so because presumably they believe their lives will be better as a result, and it would be hard to imagine why that would not be true.

The DPRK government wants its slave subjects all back, it will harm the families of those who do not return, and if they all return it will hail that it was because of the indomitable strength and indefatigable will of the leaders, party, army and state that the "south Korean puppets" submitted to the will of the people who wanted to return to their beloved socialist motherland, after witnessing the degradation and depravity of life in the "US-occupied south".  

So for now, the DPRK is refusing to receive those who want to return home, because it is using the families of those who don't, as political footballs.  If it cared one jot for the people concerned, it would allow the families of those who want to stay in south Korea to follow them, and then allow those who wish to return to do so, in full knowledge that they also could bring their families south.

However, in a socialist totalitarian prison state, it isn't about the people - it is about the system.  The people are cogs in the wheel of a system ostensibly about people, but which is as distant from human compassion as you could possibly be.

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