Private Citizens Liberating North Korea with Shortwave Radio

[imText1]Before arriving in South Korea after moving here from the U.S., I never imagined that my journey would involve meeting people who are fighting on the front lines of North Korea’s liberation, but that is exactly where my travels brought me on 23 February 2007. It was mid-afternoon and Ha Tae-Kyoung, President of Open Radio for North Korea (ORNK) invited me into his office to discuss ORNK’s operations. Despite the smell of stale coffee, old furniture, and heater fuel, Ha Tae-Kyoung appeared un-phased and eager to explain the importance of their radio transmissions over North Korea—an operation that not too long ago, would have been considered only permissible for clandestine government organizations.

Anyone Can Broadcast

Ha explained that ORNK allows individuals, student groups, and private organizations to broadcast messages to North Korean people through shortwave radio. ORNK uses shortwave radio primarily because unlike AM and FM frequencies that are controlled by national governments and have a limited range, shortwave can be sent anywhere in the world and with little legal limitations. Ha stated that ORNK does not prepare the messages sent to North Korea; rather, you, the audience, submit the messages. Eagerly burning the midnight oil to overcome the radio censorship in North Korea, Ha and his staff, which is partly comprised of North Korean defectors, broadcast your messages over North Korea between 11 and 12pm.

Shortwave Radios in North Korea

According to Ha, shortwave radios are growing in popularity in North Korea and more people are acquiring them through China for about US $5.00. Ha went on to point out that if more North Koreans owned shortwave radios, ORNK would be able to reach a larger audience and have a greater impact on North Korean human rights.

Ha stated that possessing a shortwave radio is against the law in North Korea; however, those caught with them usually do not serve time in prison. Before the 1980’s, a North Korean caught with a radio capable of listening to outside broadcasts could be sentenced to death. However, corruption in North Korea is too widespread for even Kim Jong-il to control. Corruption is a way of life in North Korea. Consequently, the security agents only confiscate the radios as punishment. The agents then turn around and sell them in the black market for their own personal profit. They do not record finding the radio because if they were to report its existence, they would not be able to sell them for their $5.00 value, which is a nice boost in income when considering that they earn $1.00 to $2.00 monthly salary. On the other hand, if North Korean security agents happen to catch someone listening to foreign transmissions on a radio, the lawbreaker will likely spend time in a prison camp like Yodok, one of the many Gulags (concentration camps) in North Korea.

More Listeners Needed

Ha pointed out that ORNK would be able to reach more North Korean listeners if more of them were able to afford the $5.00 radios made in China—something a private effort could facilitate by purchasing radios for smugglers returning to North Korea from China. With the number of ORNK listeners increasing, the number of defectors that report having listened to a shortwave radio transmission also increases. In one study conducted in 2001, about 2% of defectors that were hiding in China reported listening to a shortwave radio. In 2005, the Korea Press Foundation found that about 4% of defectors reported listening to a shortwave radio before making it to South Korea. In Early 2006, Lee Young Ho (pseudonym, age 33), a former North Korean, told the Daily NK that, “The number of houses listening to foreign radio around the border area reaches about five or six out of ten…I listened to Open Radio for North Korea around December 10th last year. When I heard that there had been a conference on North Korean human rights, I started to have faith.”

Liberation Requires Privatized Support

Despite the recent claim by the North Korea government that radio transmissions have no effect on North Korea, the evidence says otherwise. Open Radio for North Korea is one of many organizations that broadcast shortwave radio to North Korea. Free North Korea Radio (FNKR) is another short wave radio organization dedicated to broadcasting over North Korea. Speaking to National Public Radio, Kim Sung-min, a former North Korean military propaganda writer and employee of Free North Korea Radio stated, “We want to contribute to the downfall of the North Korean regime… Not in a forceful, violent way, but by teaching North Koreans what democracy means, so they will initiate change themselves.”

The privatized efforts of ORNK and FNKR are led by honorable men and women who are battling an information war at the front lines of liberation. They are feeding the growing demand for freedom in North Korea through the transmission of education, democracy, and liberty; they are educating North Koreans about their innate human rights. Because shortwave radio represents the only voice of hope for so many oppressed North Koreans, their future depends on the people of the free world to take action, extend their generosity and financial support, and participate in this private attempt to help North Koreans free themselves from misinformation and oppression. These shortwave radio organizations are informing North Koreans that freedom of speech is their right. ORNK provides North Koreans with hope that they too can one day join the world of the free. They are learning that freedom of speech is an innate right that when taken away, is against the good nature and order at which humans express themselves.