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South Korea 27 May 2004

Threats to an Internet radio run by North Korean defectors

Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) has expressed concern about threats and harassment of a group of defected North Koreans who run the independent Internet radio Free North Korea.

The Institute of North Korean studies, linked to South Korean intelligence, on 8 May 2004 asked the radio to quit premises they were using. The decision followed a complaint from Pyongyang and death threats against the members of the radio.

The international press freedom organisation has urged the Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun to intervene with the relevant authorities to ensure free expression for the radio and the staff’ safety.

It added that it was disturbed to see that the station’s staff should be forced to leave a building, just three days after an official North Korean complaint.

Radio Free North Korea (wwww.freenk.net), the first independent radio run by North Korean exiles, has received threats ever since its launch on 20 April 2004.

Individuals, probably of South Korea’s extreme-left who back the North Korean regime, have regularly tried to disrupt programmes by getting into the building that houses the station. Security personnel have had to intervene on several occasions.

The radio’s presenters have also received death threats by phone, email and post. An unidentified woman has several times warned them, saying: "Traitors, you should watch out".

A North Korean delegation made an official complaint on 5 May to the reunification minister about the launch of the website and the radio. The minister reportedly replied that it was only one website among the tens of thousands in South Korea.

But on 8 May, head of the institute, Kim Chang-soon asked Kim Seong-min, head of Free North Korea to leave as soon as possible the offices that had been loaned to them. He said the decision had been taken to protect the staff of the institute that was privatised in the 1990s but still receives support from South Korean secret services (NIS). According to some sources, the institute’s boss had had to act under pressure from the authorities.

Radio Free North Korea staff left the offices on 19 May and moved into a privately-rented office. Broadcasts have not however been interrupted as a result of the harassment and threats.

Kim Seong-min, former official North Korean poet, launched the Internet radio with about half a dozen other North Korean defectors living in Seoul. The station, in a very "North Korean style" broadcasts daily giving one hour of news about the situation in the peninsula and accounts by exiles. It strongly denounces the Stalinist regime in Pyongyang. The website claims 10,000 hits a day.




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