S. Korea bars secret video of the North
A tape of a public execution, smuggled into South Korea, is kept off the air.
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA
On a bleached and scratchy video image smuggled out of Kim Jong Il's closed regime, blindfolded prisoners are tied to white posts on a rocky landscape, shot three times, and dragged away. The rare video footage of summary executions in North Korea - a practice considered routine in the North but never captured on film - was taken by hidden camera March 1 and 2, and smuggled through China to South Korea.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
At the time, refugee groups in Seoul were ecstatic. It looked like a human rights slam-dunk: Refugees from the North have long described summary executions - public spectacles where prisoners are shot moments after a death sentence is proclaimed. The shootings are a form of social control via terror, experts say.
Yet in a twist not anticipated by underground groups that carried off the filming, South Korean TV authorities have not let the video be broadcast. The tape has been aired worldwide; Japan recently aired three exhaustive reports.
But due to intense though indirect pressure by Seoul officials, the North Korean execution tapes, purportedly of "middlemen" who help refugees escape to China, are not yet available for viewing by Koreans in the South. The indirect censure adds to frustration among those documenting the gulags and torture in the North. They charge indifference in the South to evidence of manifold suffering by ethnic siblings across the demilitarized zone.
It also raises anew questions about a five-year policy in Seoul of studiously avoiding acts that might upset Pyongyang, for fear of harming fragile North-South relations. South Korea's ambivalence about a get-tough policy with North Korea may also factor into the mechanics of the six-party talks over the North's recently declared nuclear program.
"We have told of many public executions [in the North]. But officials in Seoul always ask us for material evidence," says Pak Sang Huk, an escapee from the North. "Now that we have evidence, they don't want to see it.... The people who brought this tape through China were speechless when they visited KBS [Korean Broadcast Service] studios, and were shunned." Mr. Pak claims those who filmed the executions risked their lives to do so.
Seoul's effort to avoid broadcasts of negative images or facts about North Korea is part of a larger strategy dating to the Sunshine Policy and Korean summit of 2000. In this view, unification of North and South can't be achieved if the South criticizes or acts in a manner that the North deems hostile.
"Kim Jong Il holds public executions to show the Kim family is omnipotent," says Jae Jin Suh of the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul. "It is naive to think that Pyongyang will respond to a push by Seoul to change and treat its people better. We need to focus on what is effective, not what we think we should say."
Of late, the South has stopped raising the North's abuses in international bodies. In 2003, South Korea withdrew from a UN Geneva process when it required a vote on North Korea's human rights record. In 2004, Seoul abstained from voting. A new South Korean defense white paper released this month after a three-year delay, deletes a former reference to the North Korean Army as the "main threat."
Critics say that to stifle or disallow comment about the unpredictable Kim leaves the South in the position of being influenced or governed by Kim's own whims. Supporters of Sunshine say that patience is needed, and a return to hostile accusations could create a standoff that would slow foreign investment in the South. Critics say millions are suffering now.