The diplomatic thaw between North and South Korea led to the highly publicized dismantling of propaganda loudspeakers along the border this week, but the U.S. State Department promised on Wednesday that the effort to bring “independent information” to communist North Korea will continue.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert made this commitment during remarks to commemorate North Korea Freedom Week:
For more than 60 years the people of North Korea have faced egregious human rights violations in virtually every aspect of life. In addition to the roughly 100,000 individuals, including children and family members of the accused, who suffer in political prison camps, North Koreans face an almost complete denial of fundamental freedoms by their government. Those trying to flee this oppressive environment, if caught, are often tortured or killed.
We remain gravely concerned and deeply troubled by these abuses. In tandem with the maximum pressure campaign, we will continue to press for accountability for those responsible.
We are also going to continue our efforts to increase the flow of independent information into, out of, and within this isolated state to present everyday North Koreans with a more realistic picture of the outside world.
North Korea Freedom Week is an annual event promoted for the past 15 years by the North Korea Freedom Coalition, a nonpartisan alliance with members from the United States, both Koreas, Japan, and other nations, including representatives from humanitarian organizations and support groups for North Korean defectors. The theme of this year’s North Korea Freedom Week is “Truth Will Set Them Free.”
Vice President Mike Pence contributed to North Korea Freedom Week on Wednesday with a tribute to North Korean defectors, some of whom he met during his trip to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in February:
On this North Korea Freedom Week, I remember the moving meeting w/ defectors who fled the oppressive regime in search of a better life and my time with Otto Warmbier’s amazing family. We are working hard on denuclearization and peace. It would be great for America and the world! pic.twitter.com/yLPRFneMlU
— Vice President Mike Pence (@VP) May 2, 2018
One of those defectors, former high-ranking official Thae Yong-ho, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee in November that the North Korean regime relies upon total control of the information received by its captive population.
“Until now, the North Korean system has prevailed through an effective and credible reign of terror and by almost perfectly preventing the free flow of outside information,” Thae testified.
“We cannot change the policy of terror of the Kim Jong-un regime, but we can educate the North Korean population to stand up by disseminating outside information,” he advised.
“However, is the United States really doing enough in this regard?” he asked. “The U.S. is spending billions of dollars to cope with the military threat. Yet how much does the U.S. spend each year on information activities involving North Korea in a year? Unfortunately, it may be a tiny fraction.”
In the past, efforts to smuggle outside information to North Koreans has relied on such unconventional, but reportedly effective, methods as filling flash drives with documents, photos, videos, and music, then tying them to hydrogen balloons and floating them across the border.