NKorean publicly executed for illegally calling overseas to sneak news out, report says

By Hyung-jin Kim, AP
Thursday, March 4, 2010

NKorean executed for sneaking news out: report

SEOUL, South Korea — A North Korean firing squad publicly executed a factory worker for sneaking news out of the reclusive communist country via his illicit mobile phone, Seoul-based radio said Thursday.

The armaments factory worker was accused of divulging the price of rice and other information on living conditions to a friend who defected to South Korea years ago, Open Radio for North Korea reported on its Web site.

The man, surnamed Chong, made calls to the defector using an illegal Chinese mobile phone, the broadcaster said, citing a North Korean security agency official it did not identify. The report didn’t say when the phone calls were made.

The execution took place by firing squad in late January in the eastern coastal city of Hamhung, according to Open Radio for North Korea, a broadcaster specializing in the isolated country. The station broadcasts into North Korea, which tightly controls news.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles relations with North Korea, and the National Intelligence Service, Seoul’s main spy agency, said they could not immediately confirm the report.

Mobile phone use in authoritarian North Korea is tightly restricted, though the country introduced an advanced network in partnership with Cairo-based Orascom Telecom in 2008. North Koreans who manage to make illegal international mobile phone calls mostly use networks in neighboring China.

Open Radio for North Korea said it believes that more than 10,000 North Koreans living near the border with China illicitly possess Chinese mobile phones.

Ha Tae-keung, the broadcaster’s chief, said it was not known to whom in South Korea the information passed on by Chong was eventually delivered.

The North Korean defector said to have received the calls, only identified by the common Korean family name of Kim, may have worked for South Korean government officials, researchers or news outlets, Ha said.

Ha said neither the executed man nor the defector has worked for Open Radio for North Korea.

North Korea has long been regarded as having one of the world’s worst human rights records, including public executions, political prison camps and torture.

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