North Korea sentences South Korean journalists to death in absentia

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A North Korean court will sentence four South Korean journalists to death in absentia for writing a book review in which a photo with edited North Korean symbols was visible, the country’s state-run news agency reported on Thursday.

A statement from North Korea’s Central Court said journalists Son Hyo-rim of the Dong-A Ilbo newspaper and Yang Ji-ho of the Chosun Ilbo newspaper, along with their publishers Kim Jae Ho and Pang Sang Hun, were guilty under Article 60 of the DPRK Criminal Code.

The two journalists wrote a review about the 2015 book “North Korea Confidential,” which was recently released in Korean and describes a growing market economy. It was written by Daniel Tudor, a former correspondent for the Economist magazine, and James Pearson, a correspondent for Reuters.

The court condemned the journalists for showing a photo of the book’s cover in which the red star from North Korea’s flag was replaced with the dollar sign. Additionally, the country’s official name – the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea – was changed to “Capitalist Republic of Korea.”

The court’s spokesman accused “conservative media” in the South of carrying out a “committed smear campaign” against the North. “Now they have reached the state of slandering and insulting even the inviolable name of our country and its national emblem,” he was quoted as saying.

Insulting the name and emblem of North Korea is “never-to-be-pardoned high treason” and as such the four will be sentenced to death under Article 60 of the DPRK Criminal Code, the spokesman added, even though the four journalists are not in custody of the North Korean authorities.

A copy of North Korea’s current criminal code is not publicly available, but a 2007 version specified Article 60 as Plots against National Sovereignty, according to the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). It said the death penalty could be applied in “cases of extremely grave offenses.”

“The criminals hold no right to appeal and the execution will be carried out any moment and at any place without going through any additional procedures as soon as the objects are confirmed,” the court said. “We will track down to the end those who masterminded and manipulated hideous provocations of slandering and insulting the dignity of the DPRK and mete out death to them.”

The spokesman also called on the South Korean authorities to immediately launch an investigation into the journalists, adding that South Korea would be an accomplice if it did not punish them. “It should be clearly understood that neither mercy nor leniency will be shown to those who slander the inviolable dignity of the DPRK,” the court said.

Responding to Friday’s announcement, South Korea’s Ministry of Unification told the Yonhap news agency that the North’s threat constitutes a “serious violation” of freedom of the press and an intervention in the South’s internal affairs. “We sternly warn that North Korea should end its threat to our nationals,” the ministry said.

The court made no mention of whether it would also seek punishment for the authors of the book.

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