Civil Rights Violation of Freedom of Information and Speech in North Korea By Caroline Ellerman

Torture, execution, rape, starvation and forced labor. These are all repercussions in North Korea for speaking freely or gaining or passing on illegal information. A not very commonly talked about and widely known civil rights issue is the lack of what should be one of the most basic freedoms, freedom of information and speech in North Korea. This has been occurring since Korea split into two separate countries in 1948. Anyone living in North Korea is being affected by this loss of rights. While there are many outcomes to speaking or passing on something that is not allowed or gaining outside information, one would be to be sent to a political prison camp. There the prisoners live fenced-in by barbed wire in a small place where they are faced with starvation, forced labor, execution, rape, torture, and about 15,000 people per camp serve life sentences, many passing their sentences to other generations after perishing (“Prison Camps of North Korea”). While speaking in a “wrong” way or learning information that should not be known is not the only reason that these camps are being filled, but it is a large contributor. The only opinions welcome in North Korea and the only information that should be obtained is that of the Korean Worker’s Party (KWP), North Korea’s only political party, and any other is wrong or illegal. Depending upon the severity of the case, the people who do speak freely or pass on illegal information could end up in a prison camp or worse. Execution is one of the prices for making a phone call or communicating with anyone who does not live in North Korea (Sargent). It is a very large issue, and is similar and different to the Civil Rights Movement in many ways.

This flagrant civil rights violation is similar in some ways to the Civil Rights Movement that took place between 1954-1958. While they are fighting for different things, how they went about fighting it was the same. In both cases, people often knew that they would get in trouble, or worse killed if they did speak freely, collect illegal information or do something to advance the Movement, however, even while knowing this, they still did it. According to Lisa Sargent, in an article talking about the repression of North Korea and the lack of rights its citizens have, “Despite the high risk of being severely reprimanded for speaking out against the government or for obtaining outside information, 98 percent of North Koreans have received information not available in the North Korean market through word of mouth from trusted family and friends.” Obviously, these people knew how dangerous it was to gain and pass on outside information, but they still did it despite the risk because they want to be able to have a life that they can pass information freely. Similarly, at the Greensboro, North Carolina sit-ins, the African American students that took part of it understood that what they were doing would cause them harm and there would be major repercussions, however, they did it anyway. When these students were physically attacked, they curled up on the floor and took the harm, never fighting back. In the same way, after they were arrested, more students would quietly and quickly sit where they had been and do the same thing (“The Sit-In Movement”). The next reason that the two are similar is that both had limited knowledge. During the Civil Rights Movement, the African Americans had a terrible education. They had second hand materials, had to walk very long distances to get there, their schools were very poorly funded and many had to drop out of school before their education was finished in order to help out at their house or make money (Amato). It is very clear that these citizens did not have access to a good education, and therefore, had limited knowledge and information. Similarly, in North Korea, the only information that the people have access to is the information provided by the Regime or KWP. If they gain information from any other source or from anywhere other than their country, they could be subject to imprisonment or execution (Fontaine). It is very clear that the North Koreans have very limited access to information due to the fact that they could only legally obtain the information provided by the repressive government.

The Civil Rights Movement and the civil rights violation of free speech in North Korea are also different. In the Civil Rights Movement, the people were working towards equal rights, however, in North Korea, the issue is with everyone. Before the Civil Rights Movement, the African American citizens of the United States of America did not have the same rights, such as voting rights and discrimination in public places, and chances at things, such as housing, education and job opportunities, as the white citizens. (“Civil Rights Movement”) Obviously this was unfair because they were being limited based on their skin color, which is something that they cannot control. As a result of this injustice, they protested, marched and did all that they could in order to gain their equal rights. Many white people fought against them, but the government was mostly with their cause. On the contrary, in North Korea, everyone is subject to the rights violation. In general, the entire population except the regime has access to minimal information and are not legally allowed to gain anymore (Fontaine). They are all suffering from this injustice, rather than only part of the population being affected by the civil rights issue. Clearly, this is a difference between the Civil Rights Movement and the current civil rights issue of North Korean repression of information and speech. Another reason why the two civil rights issues are different is because in the Civil Rights Movement, the citizens worked very hard to fight their oppressors and win their cause, however, there are not any protests or marches or protest that have taken place on account of the lack of freedom of speech and information. During the Civil Rights Movement, there were many marches and protests that the blacks organized and participated in. Examples of these are the March on Washington, Freedom Rides, Sit-Ins and the Montgomery Bus Boycott (Costly). On the other hand, in North Korea the punishment is very clear and too great and harmful for anyone to organize marches against. Being sent to prison camps for the rest of the people’s lives is not a risk that most are willing to take in order to gain their freedom. Additionally, they could be executed or tortured and then executed if they do work against the regime (“World Report 2015: North Korea”). Obviously, another reason that the two civil rights issues are very different is because there is not much that is being done to fight against the lack of freedom of information and speech in North Korea. Therefore, the Civil Rights Movement and the lack of freedoms in North Korea are different because of who it affects and that there is not much being done to work against the repression.

There is a way for citizens to get involved, however, it is quite hard for them to make a direct impact. The first way is by helping accept any refugees who have escaped the country and helping them adjust to their new life. Another way is to send a letter to the local representative in the government in order to try to get the government involved with the issue. Due to the fact that the issue is within another country, there is not that much that can be directly done by ordinary citizens, but every letter or act of kindness adds up, and one day may result in a change. There is an organization called the International Coalition to Stop Crimes Against Humanity in North Korea (ICNK) which, as explained in the title, is working against the inhumane crimes that take place in North Korea. It is a combination of about 40 different organizations with a similar goal against North Korea, working together to raise awareness and gain more followers. They have conferences and meetings in major cities, where all are welcome. They also accept donations, which is another way that an ordinary citizen can help (ICNK). This issue needs to be changed.

Works Cited

Amato, Cheryl. "Education." Unchaining Civil Rights: Education. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Mar. 2017. <>.

"Civil Rights Movement." West's Encyclopedia of American Law., n.d. Web. 23 Mar. 2017. <>.

Costly, Andrew. "Social Protests." Constitutional Rights Foundation. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Mar. 2017. <>.

Fontaine, Richard. "North Korea: Time to Confront Regime's Repression." CNN. Cable News Network, 21 Dec. 2015. Web. 23 Mar. 2017. <>.

"::: ICNK :::." ::: ICNK :::. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Mar. 2017. <>.

"North Korea." Free Speech and Free Press Around the World. N.p., 30 Apr. 2013. Web. 23 Mar. 2017. <>.

"Prison Camps of North Korea." Prison Camps of North Korea | Is the Official United States Government Website for International Human Rights Related Information. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Mar. 2017. <>.

"The Sit-In Movement." Independence Hall Association, n.d. Web. 23 Mar. 2017. <>.

"World Report 2015: North Korea." Human Rights Watch. N.p., 21 Mar. 2016. Web. 23 Mar. 2017. <>.


Created with images by Alan Cleaver - "Erosion of civil rights" • Abode of Chaos - "Kim Jong Un, painted portrait DDC_7877001" • John Pavelka - "Flags"

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