Living in the high technology-driven US in the 21st century, we bask in our seemingly unlimited freedoms, especially our access to news, media, and entertainment. On the other extreme, in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, people are risking their lives just to get a glimpse of what we take for granted.
The censorship in North Korea is one of the most strict in the world, as the government controls citizens in every aspect of their lives. Despite the oppressive regime under Kim Jong Un, citizens are hungry and desperate to learn about the world beyond their closed boundaries.
In a country where fabrication is interwoven with reality, brainwashing them with propaganda, North Koreans are living in a dystopian society. The North Korean government exercises their totalitarian power over information through censorship, inspections, and built-in softwares to prevent access to information that is not officially sanctioned by the government. Most pervasive is how the leadership molds its people from an early age to develop a skewed idea of ethnic and national pride – that they are inherently more pure and morally superior than all others. By rewriting history that popularizes anti-American rhetoric and portraying the Kim family as supreme, god-like leaders, the citizens are taught to pledge utmost loyalty toward their country and hostility toward the outside world.
Jieun Baek, a Ph.D candidate at Oxford University in Public Affairs, has done extensive research on North Korea and human rights. In her book, “North Korea’s Hidden Revolution: How the Information Underground is Transforming a Closed Society”, through interviews with North Korean defectors, she analyzes how the influx of information into the country from the outside world could potentially be the key towards unlocking freedom for North Korean citizens.
In an interview with JSR, Baek explained that “North Korean citizens are at high risk of suffering severe consequences if they are caught with outside information. Such punishments include being sent to prison and labor camps, and can even lead to executions.” So why are North Koreans risking their lives despite lethal consequences?
“It’s by human nature of curiosity that there’s a peaked interest in the outside world…even if whatever is sought out is censored,” Baek stated. This information war is being waged by a large network of North Korean defectors, as well as many other human rights groups, organizations, and activists, like Baek. They are all pushing for exposure to outside media, through the act of smuggling in various technological devices. This is how North Koreans have been gaining access to various forms of American and South Korean media, such as movies, books, and music.
Often, North Koreans have no way of distinguishing fact from fiction. Thus, the power of knowledge of the citizenry is a major threat to the dictatorship. If enough outside information can flow into the country, North Koreans can eventually grasp the reality that has been suppressed from them. From there, as Baek says, “the citizens will decide collectively what they want their future to be.”
A hidden revolution is slowly but surely emerging, which could potentially lead to the downfall of the North Korean regime. If military action and economic sanctions aren’t effective enough, we can work from within – through the people.
For freedom to be possible for the North Koreans, there needs to be greater awareness. I believe that people have the right to access information about their society, and that the practices in the country are morally unjust. As citizens of a country that values free speech, we have the privilege of unlimited access to media – it is only right to spread our advantage and knowledge to those on the opposite side of the spectrum, so that they can gain their moral right in knowing the truth. The North Korean dystopia will continue to persist as long as the government maintains tight control over the flow of information.
However, they are being awakened.
North Korea is changing – quietly but powerfully.
Natalie Yun, Grade 10
Taft High School