Ask a North Korean: can money buy freedom in the DPRK? – NK News

Hello there! We warmly welcome you back to Ask a North Korean, theNK Newsfeature where you the readers email in with your questions and have them answered by our very own North Korean writers.

Todays question comes from Loren in Roseville, Minnesota, who asks about what money can and cant buy in North Korea. Can you use money to get yourself out of a prison sentence? Is there a price tag on freedom even for political prisoners?

In-hua Kim spent time in a reformatory in North Korea, and details her experiences about the potential and limits for how much money can help you out of trouble in the DPRK.

Got a question for In-hua? Email it to[emailprotected]with your name and city. Well be publishing the best ones.

North Koreans are taught that socialism provides for everyone and that capitalist societies are rife with corruption. This is what I believed for the first fifty years of my life.

I now believe that capitalist societies are places where people can succeed if they work hard enough, and that North Korean socialism is where the Kim family leeches off the blood and sweat of ordinary people for their own wealth and prosperity.

Ive noticed that there are some who yearn for the socialism of North Korea. I doubt they would survive one day in that socialist hell, where money and bribes are far more important than in South Korea.

In fact, when I was still in the North, I was living on money sent from my daughter in South Korea.

At the request of my daughter, I once liaised via telephone between a mother inSouth Korea and her sonin the North, delivering cash from her to him.

He was caught and arrested by the ministry of state security around three years later while talking on the phone to his mother.

During his interrogation, he told them that I was the one who gave him his mothers phone number. This was true, as I had written it down for him soon after I helped them transfer that money.

I wasnt summoned by the ministry of state security, but an inspector from the public security station came to my house with the son and I was arrested. There was no warrant.

There were three waiting rooms at the public security stations inspection department. Two were full of men, the other women.

They were all brought in on charges like unlawful border crossings, smuggling, unlawful cell phone usage, traffic accidents, and watching impure (foreign) videos. None of them seemed like true criminals.

Everyone was very distressed since they knew they were soon going to be sent to a reformatory.

A few looked quite comfortable and care-free though. It turned out that this was because they had paid a bribe to prosecutor Moon and would be released soon.

I felt miserable because I had no one in power who could help me out or pay a bribe.

On the third day at lunchtime, a guard called my name. Full of fear, I entered the stations office.

Inside the room was someone dressed in civilian clothes. He gestured for me to sit down and flicked through the papers on the table.

He pulled out one sheet and handed it to me to sign. It said that I had made contact with my defector daughter in South Korea via phone and received money on someone elses behalf.

I signed it and begged the man to help me. He smiled and said that wed have to wait and see.

There was something ominous about his smile.

Ive noticed that there are some who yearn for the socialism of North Korea. I doubt they would survive one day in that socialist hell

The next day, inspector Lee called and told me privately that prosecutor Moon said I would need 4,000 RMB to get myself out of the public security station.

I was choking on the inside but answered calmly. Yes, I will let my other daughter (who was still in North Korea) know about the money if you let her come and visit. Please, just let me live.

He looked satisfied with this and said that my younger daughter would be called over soon.

I returned to the waiting room and shared the conversation with someone who was there for illegal cell phone usage.

Hes right, she said, you can get out of here if you pay the money. The guy in the regular clothes you spoke to is prosecutor Moon. I hear he can get you off the hook even if youve murdered someone as long as you pay him.

My parents said they would pay and get me out of here, but no news yet. She was released around two weeks later.

I felt very sorry and ashamed to ask my daughter for money, but I was determined this would be the last time I would do so and then would leave the country.

My younger daughter was called over that evening. I had spent my nights worrying about her since she had been left at home by herself. I held her and wept.

I really hate to trouble you for this, but I can only get out of here if I pay a bribe.

She cried as well, assuring me that she would let her sister in South Korea know about the situation.

Two months later, I gave 2,000 RMB to the inspector. My daughter actually sent me 6,000 RMB, but others held at the station told me not to give the full amount all in one go because bribes often have no effect in South Korea-related cases. I promised to pay him the remainder upon my release.

I waited nervously to be released, but I didnt receive any updates. Meanwhile, those who had been sent to the cell after me were paying their bribes and being let go.

On December 30, 2015, my name was finally called again. My chest pounding, I entered the office.

In-hua, too bad. Your case moved on to the preliminaries. I guess the money wasnt enough.

My heart sank. Does that mean Im going to be sent to the reformatory? Please help, I begged in tears. Ill return the favor.

Well, I tried, inspector Lee said. But phone calls with the South are difficult cases. It costs a lot of money, and you cant afford it. He pushed my paper aside.

I was infuriated and speechless. By that point, I decided I would rather suffer in a reformatory than satisfy their greed at the cost of my far-away daughter who was already struggling by herself.

I was sentenced to two years of forced labor at the Gaechon reformatory. Had the 2,000 RMB reached prosecutor Moon, its likely I would have received a lighter punishment, albeit not completely released, but I found out later that inspector Lee kept all of that money for himself.

North Korean socialism is where the Kim family leeches off the blood and sweat of ordinary people for their own wealth

Someone else I knew of, who had killed a female teacher in a traffic accident and paid a bribe of 20,000 RMB, was sentenced to one year at the Gaechon reformatory. But even this was shortened to three months thanks to an official pardon.

Another, who was charged with watching an impure video, spent her term in a hospital room. This too was possible with the help of money, sent from her daughter in South Korea.

In general, once a case has moved on to the preliminaries, a trial must take place. People try to resolve their situation before they are sent to court.

Once youre sent to a reformatory, theres almost no way to cancel the verdict.

Bribes can make your time at the reformatory easier, for example, by getting you a position as head of the prison cell or in a hospital ward for prisoners.

Once in a blue moon, ones sentence can be changed by an order from a high ranking official to hold a retrial. However, such an alteration must be approved by all of the ruling elite, including Kim Jong Un.

Conditions for political prisoners are a lot harsher. If convicted, ones entire family is taken to a prison camp located underground. Most consider you already dead if you receive such a sentence.

One of my friends, however, was a rare exception. She was taken to a detention camp for political prisoners, but everyone was alarmed when she returned six months later after everyone had assumed she was dead.

My brother is the number one at a satellite building research center, she explained. He helped me out of the death camp.

Top talents are well protected in North Korea. Pilots, frogmen, scientists, and their families enjoy immunity from punishment in many cases, lest they turn against the state or defect.

Translated by Jihye Park

Edited by James Fretwell

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Ask a North Korean: can money buy freedom in the DPRK? - NK News

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