North Koreans Are Living in a Brutal Reality Under a Despicable Dictator

North Korea is the world’s largest prison with 24 million inmates. The North Korean people are living a brutal reality in which their despicable totalitarian dictator is starving his citizens, diminishing their access to any sort of freedom, and implementing his regime’s agenda within all aspects of life such as: in school, at home, on the streets, and anywhere else you could possibly think of.  Their leader, Kim Jong-Un, has created the capital city Pyongyang into a “window shop” for foreigners, while the rest of North Korea is a collapsing, devastated, and poverty-enraged prison.

An image of “wealthy” Pyongyang. The large pyramid-shaped building is the most iconic building in North Korea. It’s known as the Ryugyang Hotel and has been abandoned since completion. It cost about $750 million USD, which could have been used to feed, hydrate, and provide the citizens with power. It’s also reported that the government wastes money creating theme parks, luxury ski resorts, and ice skating rinks for high-ranking North Korean officials.

Absolutely NO Freedom of Movement

North Korean citizens are restricted by the regime from leaving their region, let alone the country; without approval from the regime itself. If a citizen wishes to travel to another city or another region, it’s mandatory to have a legitimate purpose for the citizen’s travels, but if they don’t live in the capital — Pyongyang — the citizen will most likely be denied permission for traveling within the country.

Absolutely NO Freedom of Speech

If or when the regime in North Korea is criticized or spoken down upon, the citizen and their entire family, up to 3 generations will be thrown in political concentration camps or publicly executed.

Absolutely NO Freedom of Information

The North Korean regime is well aware of the “threats” outside information possesses on its propaganda; therefore, they’ve invested millions of dollars in trying to prevent the infiltration of outside sources, instead of spending those millions on food, water, and electricity which are all basic human rights virtually denied in North Korea. In North Korea, it’s prohibited to buy or use a tunable radio, and all internet access is denied — unless you’re an extremely high-ranking official — in which you can still only use government approved websites. Cell phones were introduced in North Korea in 2002 but were later banned in 2004. After 4 years of banned cell phones, the government opened their first cellular network and in 2015, their service had around 3 million subscribers. It is reported that North Koreans use the iPhone, Nokia phones, and some models of Samsung phones. Keep in mind these devices are restricted by the North Korean government in which they’re incapable of international calling. All domestic calls are also monitored by hired officials of the regime. Foreigners who visit North Korea are denied access to domestic calling and are only allowed international calling. Their internet access is also prohibited by the government.

NO Religious Freedom

Organized religion is seen as a potential threat to the regime and therefore nothing apart from token churches built as a facade of religious freedom for foreign visitors are allowed. Thousands of Buddhists and Christians have been purged and persecuted throughout the history of North Korea. People caught practicing or spreading religion in secret are punished extremely harshly, including by public execution or being sent to political prison camps.

Chronic Famine

The regime’s refusal to effectively reform its failed agricultural policies, combined with susceptibility to adverse climate conditions (made worse by environmental mismanagement) and an inability to purchase necessary agricultural inputs or food imports mean that the North Korean people have faced food shortages ever since the 1990s. Millions of malnourished children and babies, pregnant women and nursing mothers bear the brunt of the shortages today. This has left an entire generation of North Koreans with stunted growth and a higher susceptibility to health problems.

Dismal Public Health

The regime constantly states that it provides universal healthcare for all its citizens, but in reality, the public healthcare system collapsed in the 90’s, and only hospitals in Pyongyang were allowed to operate. Anywhere else, health services and medicine are only available to those that can afford it. Ordinary North Koreans now easily acquire diseases such as tuberculosis and cataracts, which are easily preventable with a simple vaccine or simple medicine.

Songbun Political Apartheid System

The North Korean regime has invested an immense amount of time and money creating the songbun system, a form of political apartheid that ascribes you with a level of perceived political loyalty based on your family background. Your particular songbun level (there are 51 of them) can then restrict your life opportunities, including where you can live, educational opportunities, Party membership, military service, occupation, and treatment by the criminal justice system. Any perceived political infractions by your family will lead to your songbun being demoted.

Political Prison Camps

Five political prison camps hold an estimated 80,000 to 120,000 people. Some of them are the size of cities, and they have existed five times as long as the Nazi concentration camps and twice as long as the Soviet Gulags. Many people imprisoned in these camps were not guilty of any crime but were related to someone who supposedly committed a political crime. Often they have no idea what that crime was, and even children who are born in the camps are raised as prisoners because their ‘blood is guilty’. Forced labor, brutal beatings, and death are commonplace. The regime denies the existence of these camps, but multiple survivor testimonies have been corroborated by former guards as well as satellite images.

 Collective Punishment

In North Korea, if your relative is persecuted for “anti-state” or “anti-socialist” crimes, then you and three generations of your family can be punished for it. The aim is to remove from society the whole family unit to prevent any dissent from emerging in the future, and also to deter martyrs who might sacrifice themselves for a political cause but would not want to sacrifice their whole family.

Public Executions

The North Korean regime publicly executes citizens who have been accused of a variety of crimes, including petty theft. Whole communities, including children, are brought out to watch these executions, which are designed to instill fear amongst the people of doing anything that could be seen as against the regime’s wishes.

Refugee Crisis

The North Korean regime makes it illegal to leave the country without state permission, but every year thousands of North Koreans still risk their lives to escape a combination of a lack of freedoms and economic hardship; in North Korea, these are inextricably linked. If caught trying to escape, or if caught in China and sent back, they are at risk of harsh punishments including brutal beatings, forced labor, forced abortions, torture, and internment in a political prison camp. Those suspected of having had to contact with South Koreans or Christians while in China receive the most severe punishments.

North Korean refugees’ well-founded fear of persecution if repatriated means that they should be protected under international refugee law. However, the Chinese government prioritizes its political relationship with Pyongyang and does not recognize them as refugees. Instead, they label them as “economic migrants” in an attempt to justify the forcible repatriation of thousands of North Korean refugees every year since coming to power, the Kim Jong-un leadership has cooperated with the Chinese authorities to tighten border security. Recent defectors have told us of increased physical border security, increased risk associated with bribing border guards, and heightened punishments for people trying to escape. As a result, the number of refugees managing to arrive in South Korea has decreased by almost half.

Refugee Exploitation

North Korean refugees in China live in a precarious and sometimes desperate situation. They fear harsh punishment or even death if they are caught and sent back to North Korea, but many do not have the resources or contacts to get themselves out of China. Their illegal status forces them to work in invisible industries and leaves them vulnerable to exploitation by unscrupulous employers and sex traffickers, as they have no recourse to any authorities.

 Sex Trafficking

Many North Korean women who escape North Korea become victims of sex trafficking. China’s lack of marriageable women, especially in the rural areas of its Northeast provinces, creates a demand for North Korean women who are at risk of being forced to work in brothels or online sex chatrooms or are bought and sold as wives. North Korean women have been sold for as little as a few hundred to a few thousand dollars in China.

Stateless Children

Children born to North Korean refugee mothers and Chinese fathers can face difficulties obtaining hukou (household registration papers) because of their mother’s illegal status. This can leave the children stateless, recognized by neither the Chinese or North Korean governments, and denied basic rights such as access to education and other state services. There are estimated to be around 10,000 children born to North Korean refugee mothers in China.

From this NASA obtained satellite image. North Korea is dark compared to the overwhelmingly glowing South Korea and China.

ALL INFORMATION OBTAINED BY LIBERTY IN NORTH KOREA

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Sameer Ghai
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Sameer is a 15-year-old high school student living in Orange County, California. Sameer is passionate about photography and debate. He's always watching Netflix while draining the world's supply of cookie dough ice cream.

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