Travel feature praising 'egalitarian' North Korea under fire as 'unashamed PR'

Posted by On 11:24 AM

Travel feature praising 'egalitarian' North Korea under fire as 'unashamed PR'

The author of a controversial travel piece that praises North Korea as a “highly organised, egalitarian and energised society” has come under heavy criticism for glamorising one of the world’s most oppressive regimes.

The feature, published in Honi Soit, a University of Sydney magazine, titled Nine Days in North Korea and written by PhD student Jay Tharappel, said the single-state nation was now “reaping the fruits of past sacrifices”.

Tharappel, who spent nine days in North Korea courtesy of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) Committee for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries, wrote that the inequality in the country “pales in comparison to the inequality you see in the capitalist world”, said that the Kim Jong-un’s authoritarianism was necessary “for the simple reason that they are a nation at war”, and disputed the accou nt of most visitors to the country who say they are closely chaperoned.

Pyongyang, North Korea's capital
Pyongyang, North Korea's capital Credit: istock

Human Rights Watch says North Korea is “one of the world’s most repressive states” and that the government “restricts all civil and political liberties for its citizens, including freedom of expression, assembly, association, and religion”. It says the government “routinely uses arbitrary arrest and punishment of crimes, torture in custody, forced labor, and executions to maintain fear and control”.

North Korea has in recent years attempted to kickstart its tourism industry. But travellers must visit with an authorised tour operator and be accompanied at all times. Visitors are urged to follow the advice of their guides. This week the US extended its travel ban on American citizens visiting the country, while the British Foreign Office advises against all but essential travel to the state.

In his feature, Tharappel praised the North Korea’s investment in education, its rejection of advertising and its protection of workers’ rights.

“The state believes that it has a civilisational mission to complete, one that began with resistance to Japanese colonial occupation, and should end with the reunification of Korea, which both sides are enthusiastic about,” he said. “Their slogan is, ‘we envy nothing in this world’, and that seems to make perfect sense when you look around. They don’t smear their public spaces with advertising telling their citizens they’re inadequate, instead they paint murals intended to inspire their people to build a better society. All they ask of us is to be left alone, and for the US military to leave their homeland.”

The piece has been labelled “obscene”, “unashamed PR for a murderous regime” and “disgusting”.

“Everyone associated with this article ought to be ashamed,” said Australian MP Tim Watts.

“This sycophantic piece about North Korea is disgusting,” said Matthew Lesh, a research fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs. “This is a country where hundreds of thousands have staved in famines, dissent will lead you to being fired out a cannon, and thousands spend their lives in slave labour prison camps. Get real.”

Visitors to North Korea generally say they are kept away from the public
Visitors to North Korea generally say they are kept away from the public Credit: istock

The magazine, Honi Soit, said it had received complaints but would not be removing the article.

It said in a st atement: “The article was approved by a majority of editors.

“We consider a number of criteria when approving pitches. These include whether an article is relevant to [University of Sydney] students and young people, whether it adds something to the discourse it belongs to and whether it is original.

North Korea is keen to expand its tourism industry
North Korea is keen to expand its tourism industry Credit: istock

“No pitch must satisfy every criterion, and each editor may have different reasons for approving a pitch. We do not consider whether an article conforms to the political opinions of editors.”

Tharappel said in a Facebook post: “Obviously I cannot address every preconception about the DPRK in a thousand words, what I wrote about is what I saw, because unlike most of my critics I have actually been there.”

Minty Clinch visited North Korea for Telegraph Travel earlier this year. She said the state “goes out of its way to ensure that tourists... are isolated and barred from making meaningful contact with North Koreans”.

“It was eerie from the off,” she said of her trip. “Pyongyang International Airport is immaculate but Koryo Air’s veteran jet from Beijing stood alone on the Tarmac. We’d been warned about searches and delays at the airport, but unsmiling officers dealt swiftly with minimal paperwork, while customs officials showed no interest in scanning tablets for banned photos of South Korea. Strangely my half-completed crossword was confiscated.

“On our 10-night tour, our three English speaking guides, the enforcer, the cheerleader and the persuader, showed us a good time while keeping on message. They took the lead in the open mic sessions on the bus that became our daytime home. They sung Korean fo lk songs with gusto but took even more pleasure in telling jokes against Americans and the Japanese, their former colonial masters.”

Source: Google News North Korea | Netizen 24 North Korea

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