Greater freedom in Pyongyang than Seoul?
By Jack Kim
For about eight straight years I’ve been covering North Korea, one of the world’s most closed countries with a human rights record that is roundly criticised as one of the worst on the globe.
So it came as a surprise when a North Korean “guide” said on my seventh visit to the communist state that when it comes to restricting freedom of movement, South Korea’s spy agency makes life tougher for North Korean visitors to the capitalist neighbour.
“They even follow you into the hygiene room and wait there until you’re finished!” a North Korean handler said as his voice rose in indignation when describing the treatment given to North Korean visitors to the South.
South Korea’s National Intelligence Service agents limit a North Korean visitor’s movement from floor to floor and ban any kind of excursion unless in a group tour. They also follow visitors into public restrooms.
“Conducting official duty” is the explanation when asked what they thought they were doing following you into the bathroom, the North Korean guide said, adding it is presumably to make sure you’re not receiving secret instructions from the North or being handed a secret message from a double agent in the South.
We on the other hand as part of a South Korean group were free to wander anywhere inside the hotel, be it a drunken lurch from the sky lounge to the lobby bar (“tea shop”), for a browse through the bookstore or venture out the main door for some fresh air or a smoke.
But it did seem a bit excessive to be following anyone into the bathroom and wait in there until that person is finished, which is why I asked the NIS for official explanation. The agency did not immediately have a comment.