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January 16, 2014 at 6:15 AM

As Kenneth Bae remains imprisoned, PBS ‘Frontline’ exposes real North Korea

If you want to get a real sense of life inside North Korea, stop looking at the photos of Dennis Rodman’s ill-advised trip earlier this month to Pyongyang to celebrate Kim Jong Un’s birthday.

Instead, watch the latest “Frontline” from PBS called “Secret State of North Korea.” Here’s the trailer:

Director Jim Jones worked with journalists to obtain grainy, sometimes-horrifying video from inside the country. Glimpses of daily life there show mass oppression, orphaned children, fake luxury storefronts, and over-the-top efforts to exalt Kim’s image.

Kim’s greatest enemy isn’t the United States. His regime is most afraid of pop culture and foreign influences, which only serve to pique citizens’ curiosity about the real world. The film features compelling interviews with North Korean defectors who smuggle and bribe their way across the border to distribute bootleg computers, movies and thumb drives. These same people were brave enough to talk about being imprisoned and tortured by the regime’s henchmen. In fact, images show North Korean prison camps have expanded during Kim’s reign.

Kenneth Bae, right, an American man detained in North Korea since Nov. 2012, and his mother Myunghee Bae talk to each other during their meeting at a hospital on Friday, Oct. 11, 2013. (AP Photo/The Choson Sinbo, Mun Kwang Son)

Kenneth Bae, right, an American man detained in North Korea since Nov. 2012, and his mother Myunghee Bae talk to each other on Friday, Oct. 11, 2013. (AP Photo/The Choson Sinbo, Mun Kwang Son)

Throughout the hour-long film, I kept thinking about Kenneth Bae, the former Washington resident and tour operator now serving a 15-year sentence in a labor camp. The Seattle Times’ editorial board has published numerous editorials calling for his release. His family has only spoken to him a handful of times throughout his 14-month imprisonment. A visit by Bae’s mother last fall, which she wrote about in this Nov. 3 guest column, was closely supervised.

What is really happening to this American in North Korean hands? No one knows. And not enough people care.

All we can do is draw stories from people who’ve escaped North Korea. In case you missed it, here’s one disturbing account re-published in The Seattle Times last month and written by Shin Dong-hyuk, an activist and only person known to have escaped from a North Korean labor camp.

Visit the family’s Free Kenneth Bae web site for more information on how you can help.

Comments | More in Video | Topics: frontline, kenneth bae, north korea


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