Stung by unfavorable press coverage in a growing number of countries, North Korean diplomats are pushing back hard against media reports deemed to have cast their country or national leader Kim Jong Un in a negative light, sources say.
“We will not tolerate any ‘dirty articles’ criticizing our supreme leader,” North Korean ambassador to South Africa Kim Chang Ryeop wrote in a letter published on July 17 in South Africa’s Daily Maverick newspaper.
The letter, which was threatening in its tone, came in response to an article printed earlier by the Maverick detailing North Korean diplomats’ attempts to smuggle rhinoceros horns out of the country in a scheme to earn money for the cash-strapped and sanctions-hit North Korean regime.
North Korean missions in southern Africa have long been involved in the trade in endangered species to generate income for the central government and for North Korean embassies abroad, according to a report this month by the Geneva, Switzerland-based Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime.
The country’s diplomats rely on their immunity from detention and arrest and do much of their smuggling through diplomatic pouches, bags, or shipping containers exempt from inspection by police and customs officers, sources say.
In other cases, North Korean officials have been even more direct in their complaints, bursting into the offices of media outlets and demanding to know the sources of embarrassing stories, sources say.
In May, North Korea’s ambassador to Congo, Jo Young Nam, and embassy secretary Choi Myong Hoon “went on a rampage” in the offices of Congo’s daily newspaper Le Potentiel after the paper ran a story saying that a camp for North Korean prisoners had been set up in neighboring Equatorial Guinea, one source told RFA’s Korean Service.
"They aggressively demanded the identity of the story's source."
“Later, on June 15, Congo’s L’Observateur daily published an article exposing what it called the illegal operation of North Korean medical clinics in African countries,” RFA’s source said. “North Korean embassy officials then threatened to sue the paper for spreading ‘false information.’”
A positive image
North Korean officials have also tried recently to promote a more positive image of their country in the foreign press, sources say.
“On June 18, Kim Hyun Il, North Korea’s ambassador to Angola, visited Angola’s major news agency ANGOP to request favorable news coverage of North Korea and its leader Kim Jong Un,” one source said.
“However, this request was rejected.”
A request apparently along the same lines by Ahn Gwan Gil, North Korea’s ambassador to Indonesia, on July 19 was similarly turned down by Jakarta’s daily paper The Jakarta Post, though no public statement was made giving details of the meeting, sources in the country said.
“North Korea’s provocations, aggressive behavior, and threats are unacceptable to the people of Indonesia,” Hwang Miri, a Korean-American businesswoman living in Indonesia, told RFA.
“Many people are now criticizing North Korea because of its behavior,” she said.
Reported by Albert Hong for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Jackie Yoo. Written in English by Richard Finney.