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Al Jazeera America’s “FAULT LINES” Presents “Hidden State: Inside North Korea”

Airing Monday, January 19th at 9pm ET/6pm PT


“North Korea is still a flashpoint. We’re still at a state of war with North Korea.” –Ambassador Joseph R. DeTrani, President of the Intelligence and National Security Alliance (INSA)


“This talk about the human rights problems of our country, this is slander coming from the U.S. and South Korean puppets that has been taken wholesale and repeated by those who do not know our actual reality.”

-- Kim Chang Gyong (North Korea Academy of Social Sciences, DPRK)


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This Monday, January 19th at 9pm ET/6p PT, Al Jazeera’s Emmy Award-winning “Fault Lines” presents “Hidden State: Inside North Korea.” In fall 2014, “Fault Lines” was granted rare access inside the regime that is arguably the worst human rights abuser in the world and, most recently, has been charged with orchestrating an unprecedented cyber-attack on Sony Pictures.  A reporting team led by correspondent Teresa Bo went to understand what, if anything, has changed since Kim Jung-Un came to power, and how U.S.-North Korean relations look from the other side.

“Our visit to North Korea was part of a highly controlled press tour sponsored by the government. Our guides decided where we went, who we spoke to and they were with us at all times,” reports Bo.

When it comes to relations with the West, Kim Jung-Un’s rule has been described as erratic. Since coming into power, he’s launched a long-range rocket and carried out a nuclear test, among other attempts at demonstrating power.

The “Fault Lines” team watched a military exercise, code-named “Max Thunder,” at Kunsan Air Base, 150 miles south of Seoul, and also observed the 17th anniversary celebration of Kim Jung-Il’s election as General Secretary of the Worker's Party of Korea, as North Koreans visited his monumental statue on Mansu Hill to pay their respects. “I feel the greatness of our eternal Kim Il Sung by visiting this place, and I have to uphold the leadership of Marshall Kim Jong Un,” celebrant Rim Yun il told the show.

“It’s a regime of unprecedented oppression, combined with a religious cult-like quality,” said Kang Cheol Hwan, Executive Director of the North Korea Strategy Center, in Seoul.  “This is a reign of fear that’s lasted 50 years.”


North Korea has one of the largest standing armies in the world; men are conscripted for up to 10 years. Al Jazeera went to the border of North Korea and South Korea, one of the most heavily fortified border areas in the world, and spoke to Lieutenant Colonel Nam Tong Ho of the Korean People’s Army. “On this Korean peninsula, there has never been a single moment free of the danger of war,” he explains. “We will only give up our nuclear weapons when the countries that threaten us give up their nuclear weapons.”


Finally, the “Fault Lines” team visited an apartment supposedly designated for professors at Kim Il Sung University, where Teresa Bo spoke to a North Korean citizen Sin Gyong ju, who lived in the apartment with her daughter, son-in-law and grandson.


At the time of the visit, Kim Jong-Un had not been seen in public for several weeks. “I want so much to see our beloved Marshall Kim Jong-Un, so every day I wait with baited breath for the newspaper to arrive,” she said tearfully. “When I do not see him on the pages of the paper, my heart suffers.”


Asked about the probability of war, she said, “If [the Americans and South Korea] were to go to war with us right now, the entirety of the landmass that is America, there won’t be anyone left to come out and put their seal on their treaty of surrender.”


In order to get a sense of life in North Korea beyond the government minders, “Fault Lines” traveled to Seoul, South Korea, to meet with individuals who have managed to defect.  In 2014, the U.N. released a ground-breaking report on human rights abuses in North Korea, concluding their abuses – including forced labor, deliberate starvation, torture and the complete denial of the right to freedom of thought – have no parallel in the contemporary world.

One couple, whose identities are protected for their safety, escaped separately across the river to China.  “If you’ve tried to come to South Korea, you get sent directly to a labor camp,” the wife said. “So it’s better for you to die on the spot if you do get caught trying to defect. Most of the people we know who have made the crossing carried poison with them, so they can kill themselves if that happened.”

80,000 to 120,000 people are reported to be held in political prison camps, serving life sentences. While the North Korean government acknowledges the existence of labor camps, it denies that political prisons or political prisoners exist. 

“I was tortured in an underground cell in ways that a human can’t even imagine,” one torture survivor told Al Jazeera.

“They’re watching everyone’s facial expressions and movements,” she said about the regime. “So if the tears don’t come, they take their saliva and smear it under their eyes, to pretend.”

A North Korean smuggler showed “Fault Lines” exclusive footage from South Pyongan province, outside Pyongyang, showing couriers waiting for merchants to arrive at a train station with Chinese-made goods include electronics, shampoo and DVDs. Evidence, he tells "Fault Lines" of private markets the government does not want foreigners to see.

Today, North Korea continues to threaten a nuclear test because of the U.N.’s increased attention on human rights abuses.  Meanwhile, the United States has announced a new round of sanctions as a response to the cyber-attack on Sony Pictures. While the international community navigates policy options, changes within North Korea might have the most far-reaching implications.

Yet as Andrei Lankov of Kookmin University told “Fault Lines,” “Kim Jung-Un looks funny, he is overweight, and sometimes does strange things. But he is smart.”

What will the future of this regime look like, and how long will Kim Jung-Un hold onto power in the midst of increasing international pressure?

Fault Lines' “Hidden State: Inside North Korea” premieres on Al Jazeera America on Monday, January 19th at 9 p.m. Eastern time/6 p.m. Pacific. It will air again at 12am and 4am, and Saturday January 24that 7pm ET/4pm PT and 10pm ET/7pm PT.

Learn more about the show here:

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Al Jazeera America’s “Fault Lines” is a half-hour investigative documentary series that airs weekly on Monday evenings at 9pm ET/6 pm PT.  Currently in its sixth season and the recent recipient of two prestigious Peabody Awards, “Fault Lines” takes you beyond headlines and holds the powerful to account as we examine the U.S.’s role in the world.


“Hidden State: Inside North Korea” is hosted by “Fault Lines” Teresa Bo.  Bo is a journalist who has worked in Latin America, the Middle East and Africa.  For the past six years, Bo has been based in Buenos Aires, from which she covered the region, including investigating the darker side of Argentinian politics, reporting in-depth on the "war on drugs," and travelling deep into the jungles of Colombia, Bolivia, and Peru. She joined the “Fault Lines” team in 2012. 


Before joining Al Jazeera, Bo was based in Iraq and reported for BBC Spanish and CNN. She covered the US invasion and its aftermath, including the 2004 US Marine attack on the city of Fallujah. Bo has won two major awards in Spain for her Iraq coverage, including the prestigious Lara Prize for Best Journalist under 30 years old. A native Argentinean, Bo holds a bachelor's degree in international politics and a master's degree in international peace and conflict resolution


Twitter @ajfaultlines






Al Jazeera America is the new U.S. news channel that provides both domestic and international news for American audiences. It is headquartered in New York City with bureaus in 12 cities across the United States.


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