- Documentary reveals undercover footage of stark realities in pariah state
- Homeless boy, 8, tells how his mother found it too hard to look after him
- Escaped former political prisoner now sends popular culture into country
- He smuggles in DVDs and USB sticks while posing as a mushroom farmer
- Hopes they will ‘get disillusioned with regime and want to live differently’
- Cracks start to emerge as official is filmed calling Kim Jong-Un ‘hopeless’
PUBLISHED: 11:16, 12 November 2013 | UPDATED: 15:51, 12 November 2013
Like his father and grandfather before him, Kim Jong-Un rules North Korea with such terrifying control that most of his subjects know very little about the world outside of their impoverished nation.
But thanks to the digital revolution, his totalitarian regime is now finding it increasingly difficult to hide the temptations of a better life from his brutalised people.
Nor can he prevent the world from seeing the stark realities inside the world’s most secretive state where people have reportedly been executed simply for watching films and owning a Bible.
The erosion of Kim’s iron rule at the hands of technological change has now been explored in fascinating detail in a new documentary which has gained access to astonishingly brave undercover film-makers and defectors.
Behind the iron curtain: A documentary revealing the brutal realities of life in North Korea features this footage of homeless boy Min, who was abandoned by his mother because she found it too difficult to look after him
Channel 4’s Dispatches programme, which airs on Thursday, films with Jiro Ishimaru, a fearless Japanese journalist who spent 15 years training undercover cameramen in North Korea at great risk to their lives.
It follows his latest trip to the border with China, where he secretly meets one of his agents whose latest undercover footage that reveals the realities of life for its suffering people.
In an indication of the shameful imbalance in the distribution of wealth, homeless children are seen starving in the streets, while the elite in the capital Pyongyang drive the latest Mercedes.
Recent reports reveal more than a quarter of North Korean children under five are stunted by extreme malnutrition, while rural poverty remains endemic.
According to the Independent, one eight-year-old boy called Min is filmed looking unsteady on his feet from hunger as he explains that his mother found it too hard to look after him so ‘she told me I have to go.’
‘So I left and now I live outside,’ he adds.
The documentary also follows Mr Chung, a former inmate of a political prison camp who escaped to the west and now smuggles USB sticks and DVDs of South Korean soap operas and entertainment shows into the North.
He poses as a mushroom farmer to get them across the border, where guards operate a shoot-to-kill policy.
Mr Chung says that his biggest hit so far has been the Bond movie Skyfall.
He said: ‘The more people are exposed to such media the more likely they are to become disillusioned with the regime and start wanting to live differently.’
One of those was 22-year-old Changyang who realised after defecting that she had been ‘fooled’ by the regime.
The charade played out by North Korea is laid bare when one secret film-maker asks to buy goods in Pyongyang’s No 1 Department Store only to be told that he can’t.
‘They’re just for show, to impress the foreigners,’ says a staff member.
Another clip shows an ox and cart walking past a sign saying ‘courage towards the future. Let’s move forward!’
The propaganda is remorseless in north Korea.
Many people wear a red badge with a picture of either a grinning ‘Great Leader’ – Kim Il-sung who founded the personality cult around which this repressed nation revolves – or his simpering son Kim Jong-il, the ‘Dear Leader’ who died in 2011.
Every household must also display their images.
And crucially, there are also signs of open dissent.
A woman caught running an illegal bus service refuses to bribe a soldier and instead openly screams abuse and chases him off.
And there are even mutterings of discontent and disrespect from a mid-ranking official commandeered to build a special railway to the supreme leader’s birthplace.
‘How much does he know about the military? He shouldn’t be there… he’s hopeless!’ he says.
The documentary will air days after a South Korean newspaper alleged that several large-scale public executions of around 80 people had taken place in North Korea earlier this month.
In one, woman and children were herded into a sports stadium and forced to watch people being shot dead by machine gun fire.
Why the executions took place is difficult to ascertain, but the paper speculates that they may have been carried out to quell unrest and stop capitalist ideology from growing as they took place in areas of recent economic growth.
Some of the deaths may also have been a punishment for the perceived crimes of watching South Korean movies, distributing pornography, using prostitutes and possessing Bibles.
North Korea: Life Inside the Secret State will be broadcast on Channel 4 on November 14 at 11.05pm.