“Brutal,” is absolutely right.
That’s how President Trump characterized the Pyongyang regime this week on hearing news of the untimely and tragic death of American student Otto Warmbier after 17 months of his captivity in North Korea.
For this, he received 15 years hard labor. Unbelievable.
When we think of North Korea — aka the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea — it’s usually about a nuclear test or the popping off of a ballistic missile that threatens us and/or our Asian allies.
These are tremendously important issues for our security, but they also overshadow another unseemly aspect of North Korea: It’s arguably the world’s most repressive police state.
While reliable information is hard to come by due to North Korea’s reclusive nature, the U.S. State Department, the United Nations and other human rights groups are able to offer a picture of life in the Stalinist state.
Politically, the country is under the complete control of the Kim Jong Un regime, the Korean Workers’ Party and the security services — and has been so for the nearly 70 years since its founding.
According to the State Department’s annual human rights report, basic freedoms, such as speech, assembly, religion are denied. The Propaganda and Agitation Department runs the media; radios and TVs are hard-wired to government channels.
There are also no constraints on arrests, detentions or imprisonment. And incarceration can extend to three generations of family members of the accused under the notion of “collective punishment,” according to the State Department.
Pyongyang also operates a number of political prison camps where forced labor prevails. These “kwanliso” may hold some 80,000 to 120,000 detainees, according to the United Nations. Camps for “re-education through labor” exist, which may include memorizing Kim regime speeches, State notes in its annual report.
The abuses meted out by camp guards are infamous.
Offenses include attempted defection or doing or saying anything that’s deemed offensive to the ruling Kim family, such as innocently sitting on a newspaper which has a picture of any one of them (Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il or Kim Jong Un) in it.
Executions have been reported. News articles both this year and last have claimed that several high-ranking government officials have been permanently “purged” from the party ranks with anti-aircraft guns.
Hard to imagine.
Of course, who can forget that North Korean agents rather publicly offed Kim Jong Un’s half-brother with VX nerve agent in Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur airport earlier this year?
Pyongyang also reportedly sends its citizens overseas as laborers, where they work long hours under the eye of North Korean monitors. The regime receives the pay of the 50,000 to 80,000 North Korean workers directly, according to the State Department.
That income could be quite large.
On top of all of this, the communist regime fails to meet the nutritional needs of its people. The U.N.’s World Food Program reports that about 40 percent of the country faces food insecurity — all while it builds nukes and missiles.
It’s no wonder people have called the place: “Hell on Earth.”
This piece originally appeared in The Boston Herald