The shaking digital video camera scans a rundown factory wall, zooming in on what many outsiders would consider impossible in totalitarian North Korea. But the handwritten red-on-white poster is unmistakably clear:
“Down with Kim Jong Il! People, let’s all rise up and drive out the dictatorship!”
A South Korean human rights group on Tuesday revealed what it claimed to be the first video footage of dissident activity in North Korea.
The claim could not be independently verified, but North Korean defectors who saw the tape said the footage was taken near the Chinese border in Hoeryong town.
The 35-minute tape was made in November by one of 10 purported underground anti-government organizations in North Korea to let the outside world know of its campaign against the brutal communist dictatorship, the South Korean group said.
Violent struggle encouraged
“Why is Kim Jong Il so intent on blocking reform and openness?” said a leader of the North Korean group Youth Solidarity for Freedom in a spoken statement recorded on the videotape.
“People, let’s stage both violent and nonviolent struggles,” it said. “It’s a legitimate struggle if you refuse to go to work when your factory does not provide food and living allowances.”
The statement urged North Koreans to wake up from the “personality cult that has made us fools.”
If verified, the footage would be the first concrete evidence of political unrest in the isolated North. There have been occasional reports of armed rebellion, food riots and anti-government leaflets, but they cannot be independently confirmed.
There was speculation that footage of two anti-government posters — hung on an abandoned factory wall and a bridge — may have been staged. But the South Korean group said it was real.
“We stand by its authenticity. This shows that the people who made the videotape were daring and organized enough to do this kind of highly risky work,” said Do Hee-yoon, head of the Seoul-based Civil Coalition for Human Rights of the Kidnapped and Defectors from North Korea.
Such an act is punishable by death in the North, he said.
Tape via China?
Do said his group obtained the tape through an intermediary in China in early December.
He said that his information on the North Korean group was limited, but that “outside forces” are helping Northern dissidents expand their operations from provinces near the borders with China and Russia — traditional anti-government hotbeds — deeper into the country and even to the capital, Pyongyang.
The filming was done with “equipment provided by outsiders,” Do said, without elaborating.
The tape comes after the U.S. Congress in October enacted the North Korean Human Rights Act, which lets Washington spend up to $24 million a year to promote human rights in the North.
Pyongyang recently condemned what it said was U.S. “psychological warfare,” accusing Washington of plotting to topple the government by flooding the country with tiny radios that can receive outside broadcasts.
Experts differ widely on whether Kim Jong Il faces a serious challenge to the grip on power he inherited from his late father, President Kim Il Sung.
South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun says he sees little chances of North Korea collapsing. Chinese Ambassador Li Bin in Seoul was quoted last week by the South’s JoongAng newspaper as saying: “To think that North Korea will collapse is far-fetched speculation.”