A ‘tweet’ from Pyongyang could land you in jail

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A ‘tweet’ from Pyongyang could land you in jail


The news that North Korea has joined Twitter and YouTube has livened up cyberspace, even if the tweets coming out of the Hermit Kingdom weren’t exactly scintillating.

One YouTube clip describes U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as a “minister in a skirt.”

A tweet repeated the North’s nearly daily threat to strike back if South Korea exhibited any “reckless military behavior.”

Still, more than 6,000 people from countries around the world linked to the Uriminzok (“our people” in Korean) Twitter account, and Seoul reminded its citizens that tweeting with North Korea is a criminal offense that could get a tweeter three years in jail.

Until last Thursday, there was no official North Korean Twitter account. Internet access in the North is known to be only allowed for the privileged. Since the account was set up last Thursday, Uriminzok sent out 14 tweets featuring links to posts on a North Korean Web site (www.uriminzokkiri.com) that is blocked by South Korean censors.

“The Web site is known to be run by North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland,” said Unification Ministry spokesperson Lee Jong-joo yesterday. “We are currently cooperating with the Korea Communications Commission and other related institutions to accurately confirm the connection [between the Web site and the account] and looking over possible countermeasures against the account, which is currently posting anti-South Korean propaganda.”

Another Uriminzokkiri account was created on the popular video sharing Web site YouTube on July 14, said Lee. The YouTube account has 101 uploaded videos, largely clips from North Korea’s state news broadcaster, Korean Central Television.

The videos feature propaganda songs and a 10-minute, stop-motion animation for children about being polite to elders. As of yesterday, the YouTube account had 728 subscribers.

Philip Crowley, a U.S. State Department spokesman said on his Twitter account on Tuesday: “We use Twitter to connect, to inform, and to debate. We welcome North Korea to Twitter and the networked world.”

He continued: “The North Korean government has joined Twitter, but is it prepared to allow its citizens to be connected as well? The Hermit Kingdom will not change overnight, but technology once introduced can’t be shut down. Just ask Iran.”

Uriminzok’s tweets started off Thursday with a brief introduction: “This is the Twitter account for the website ‘Uriminzokkiri.’”

Most of the tweets contain anti-South Korean propaganda, including statements from the North’s official Korean Central News Agency.

“In case the account is discovered to be owned by North Korea, replies to the posts or any form of communication with the account without taking the steps to report those actions carries the chance of violating the inter-Korea Exchange and Cooperation Act,” said Lee. Viewing the North Korean YouTube clips doesn’t violate the law.

The inter-Korea Exchange and Cooperation Act states any persons who take part in any exchange with North Korea can be subject to up to three years in prison or up to 10 million won ($8,520.79) in fines.

The Web site Uriminzokkiri cannot be accessed directly in South Korea. However, the government cannot track those who choose to view the Twitter account and its contents.


By Christine Kim [christine.kim@joongang.co.kr]

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