SEOUL — The United States is working to break through an "information blockade" that helps North Korea cover up serious rights abuses and keep its people in the dark, a senior US official said Thursday.
Robert King, Washington's special envoy for human rights in the North, said the communist regime maintained "probably the most extreme example of isolation" in the world.
It allows its people virtually no Internet access and restricts cellphone communications. TVs and radios are pre-tuned to state-run stations only, and people seeking access to foreign news sources face severe punishment.
King said the regime's control over outside information means it faces less of an outcry over its rights record than the Soviet Union did in the 1960s-80s -- even though conditions in the North appear to be worse.
But there are signs this control is loosening, King told a Seoul forum, noting that the North in April had made a rare public admission that its long-range rocket launch had failed.
He said the admission was made largely because the regime believed its people would in any case hear of the failure from other news sources.
The North claimed success for what it called satellite launches in 1998 and 2009, even though both failed to enter orbit.
"I think the difference (this time) reflects the effect of information getting into North Korea and the constraints that it placed on the government of North Korea and what it says to its people," King said.
Broadcasting from abroad including the state-sponsored US station will help break down the "information blockade" and contribute to "more conscious North Korean citizens", said King.
He said Washington remains committed to increasing information to the North. "This is a fundamental component of our commitment to improving human rights in North Korea."
Several groups based in Seoul or elsewhere beam radio broadcasts into the North.
Information about the outside world also comes in via CDs, DVDs or memory sticks, or through smuggled mobile phones which connect to Chinese networks near the border.
King criticised China's policy of repatriating refugees from the North as job-seekers rather than treating them as potential refugees.
He said he was "deeply concerned" by such reports and urged Beijing to honour international treaties it has signed on protecting refugees.
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