Annual Report: North Korea 2011

May 28, 2011

Annual Report: North Korea 2011

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  • In February, Jeong Sang-un, an 84-year-old former prisoner of war who had fought for South Korea during the 1950-53 Korean War, was believed to be held in a political prison camp in North Korea after he was forcibly returned by the Chinese authorities. He appears to have been one among thousands of people who left North Korea for China in search of food. Shortly after he arrived in China, he was arrested by authorities in Jilin province, and detained until he was forcibly returned to North Korea in February. At the time of his return, he was very frail, and needed help to walk. Jeong Sang-un did not face any trial in North Korea, and was sent directly to Yodok political prison camp (or kwanliso) in South Hamkyung province.
  • In February, Robert Park, a 28-year-old US missionary and human rights activist, was released after 43 days in a detention facility in Pyongyang. He had been arrested after entering North Korea on 25 December 2009 with the apparent intention of highlighting the plight of political prisoners in the country.
  • In August, following a visit by former US President Jimmy Carter, 31-year-old Aijalon Gomes, another US national, was freed. A friend of Robert Park, he had entered North Korea illegally in January, and had been sentenced to eight years' hard labour and fined approximately US$600,000.

Freedom of expression, association and movement

The authorities imposed severe restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly, despite constitutional guarantees of these rights. Criticism of the government and its leaders was strictly curtailed, punishable by arrest and incarceration in a prison camp. The government distributed all radio and television sets; citizens were forbidden to alter them to make it possible to receive broadcasts from other nations. Those caught listening to foreign broadcasts were detained and sentenced to long prison terms.

North Korean citizens faced restrictions on travel both within the country and abroad. Thousands of North Korean nationals who fled to China in search of food and employment were often forcibly repatriated to North Korea by the Chinese authorities. They were routinely beaten and sent to detention facilities on return. Those suspected of being in touch with South Korean NGOs or attempting to escape to South Korea were more severely punished.

Death penalty

North Korea continued to carry out executions, some in public and others in secret. At least 60 people were reportedly executed publicly.

  • Chong, an armaments factory worker, was reportedly executed publicly in the eastern coastal city of Hamhung in late January. He had been charged with divulging - via an illegal Chinese mobile phone - the price of rice and other information on living conditions to a friend who had defected to South Korea years ago.

International scrutiny

In March, North Korea responded to the report arising from the UN Universal Periodic Review's (UPR) 2009 assessment of its human rights record. However, in stating that it had simply "taken note" of recommendations made during the UPR, North Korea became the first country to refuse to expressly accept any of the recommendations emerging from the process. This contradicted earlier state promises to co-operate with the UPR process. In June, Marzuki Darusman, an Indonesian national, was appointed as the new UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in North Korea.