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A BBC journalist is detained in brotherly North Korea

The BBC’s Japan Correspondent, Mr Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, has written about his (thankfully brief) detention in North Korea after covering the visit of three Nobel Laureates. Working for the Socialist Monster clearly did not impress the North Koreans.

He tells us that he was asked if he thought that Koreans spoke like dogs, after he wrote that a North Korean official ‘barked’ at him. He was asked if he thought Koreans were ugly, as he referred to an official as ‘grim-faced’. He could not have known that he would only be detained for 10 hours, which is a shorter time than some get in jail for not paying the TV licence and a resultant fine.

His ordeal developed with an ominous introduction:

Two of our old minders now appeared at the door.
“We are taking you to meet with the relevant organs,” they proclaimed. “All will become clear.”

It did not become clear, as his surreal interrogation showed (emphasis added).

“Do you think Korean people are ugly?” the older man asked.
“No,” I answered.
“Do you think Korean people have voices like dogs?”
“No,” I answered again.
“Then why do you write these things?!” he shouted.

I was confused. What could they mean? One of the articles was presented to me, the offending passage circled in black marker pen:
“The grim-faced customs officer is wearing one of those slightly ridiculous oversized military caps that they were so fond of in the Soviet Union. It makes the slightly built North Korean in his baggy uniform comically top heavy. “Open,” he grunts, pointing at my mobile phone. I dutifully punch in the passcode. He grabs it back and goes immediately to photos. He scrolls through pictures of my children skiing, Japanese cherry blossom, the Hong Kong skyline. Apparently satisfied he turns to my suitcase. “Books?” he barks. No, no books. “Movies?” No, no movies. I am sent off to another desk where a much less gruff lady is already looking through my laptop.”

It turned out that his interrogators construed his prose as ‘grim-faced’ = ‘ugly’ and took ‘barks’ literally. Odd really, as I assumed that they had eaten all the dogs in North Korea in the 1990s famine.

His theory as to why he was detained in quite simple:

Why did they choose to detain and expel me? My best guess is that someone high up decided my reporting had endangered the success of the Nobel laureates’ visit. Pyongyang yearns for recognition. Their trip was of great importance to the government. The three Nobel laureates were shown the very best of the country. They met its brightest students. Our coverage was a threat to that plan, and an example needed to be made.

He was very much luckier than any Korean and many Westerners detained in North Korea.

And those three Nobel Laureates’ visit? How smart do you have to be to better understand North Korea?

19 comments to A BBC journalist is detained in brotherly North Korea

  • Sam Duncan

    “We are taking you to meet with the relevant organs”

    Probably nothing to do with this, would be my guess. Although you never know your luck…

  • The BBCs coverage of an earlier visit may have caused North Korea to rate very low the left-wing enthusiasm that we so notice in the beeb. “We hate Bush too, so you can trust us” may have worked to get the beeb in in 2004, but – to the credit of the beeb – the resultant programme’s occasional snide aside about the US can hardly have consoled Kim whoever-it-was-then for the rest of the content.

  • Anyone who voluntarily goes to North Korea deserves everything that happens to them. And yes, I know that Rupert Hyphen Hyphen is an employee of the BoobTV, but said corporation is not the Armed Forces, and one would assume that refusing an assignation to go to a place renowned for its barbarism and brutality could be acceptable. Ditto most places in the Middle East, for that matter. Yes, getting news about such places may be in the public interest, but not at the potential imprisonment or loss of life, even if they are BBC reporters.

  • Ellen

    At the BBC, noticing a place is renowned for its barbarism and brutality is probably politically incorrect. No BBC reporter would do such a thing.

  • Ellen, then they doubly deserve whatever happens to them.

  • Eric

    The Norks are fools. It wouldn’t be much effort to set up a nice dog & pony show for gullible western journalists, complete with attractive women and down-to-earth everyday heroism. The Cubans did it and we had decades of “Cubans are really nice and they have better health care than you” stories from people who should have known better.

  • Vinegar Joe

    I think it’d be nice if the entire BBC were to be sent to NK and made to live the true socialist life…….including kimchi and cold maggot infested rice 3 times a day. Random beatings and executions could be thrown in as free extras.

  • Mr Ed


    Indeed, but now even the lamentable British Foreign office is realistic about Cuban health care, see their current advice, I like the bit about psychiatric care, presumably it is ‘better’ if you are a local (dissident).

    Medical facilities in Havana are better than elsewhere in Cuba, but you may need to be medically evacuated if you need specialist care. This can be very expensive. If you need medical treatment you – or your insurance company – will be expected to pay in hard currency before your departure. A basic hospital stay can cost as much as £200 per day plus medical expenses. Psychiatric care facilities for foreigners are extremely limited and difficult to access. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation.

    Many medicines are unavailable in Cuba. You should bring any prescription drugs you take regularly. A copy of the prescription and a letter from your doctor explaining your condition may be helpful at customs.

  • Vinegar Joe

    “Psychiatric care facilities for foreigners are extremely limited and difficult to access.”

    I don’t know about that…….complain about Fidel and you’ll probably get a free all expenses paid trip to the Serbsky Institute’s Havana branch.

  • Paul Marks

    Good to know that overseas aid (mostly by the American taxpayers in the form of food aid in the 1990s) has kept such an “interesting” regime in power.

  • Thailover

    In my opinion, anyone stupid enough to go to Retarded Big Brother Land deserves whatever the wheel of fortune happens to land on. Personally, I’m a bit tired of fools going there, especially reporters who will write the ubiquitous hackneyed kafkaesque account of their stay, and then hearing how shocked and alarmed they are that they’re detained indefinitely, or worse, prosecuted over idiotic shit and tossed into prison. Yes, this goes for Lisa Ling’s foolish sister too.

  • Andrew

    Don’t know why he’d complain, the BBC approve of people with dissenting views being punished.

  • Ray P

    DPRK interrogation no doubt feels much like a visit by BBC management.

  • Mr Ed

    DPRK interrogation no doubt feels much like a visit by BBC management.

    Unless, of course, you are, say, Jimmy Savile.

  • Stonyground

    To me the Nork government resembles a really uncool kid at school who is really desperate to impress people and be liked. His problem being that the harder he tries, the more ridiculous he looks and the more the cool kids despise him.

  • “To me the Nork government resembles a really uncool kid at school who is really desperate to impress people and be liked.”

    Stony, your analogy would be more correct if you made him psychotic and gave him a few hand grenades.

  • Ray P

    Communist regimes like rapists of under-age girls e.g. Beria.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker!) Gray

    These people probably practice Newspeak on a daily basis, so don’t know anything about metaphore and/or simile! It probably took them all night to read the newspaper! He should have calmed them down with a few jokes-
    Q. Why did the capitalist cross the road?
    A. Because all capitalists are chickens before the righteous fury of the people! All laugh now!
    Q. What do you call a good capitalist?
    A. Trick Question- no such beast!

  • Andrew Duffin

    “Rupert Wingfield-Hayes”


    Obviously a horny-handed son of the working class, just like all the other bbc luvvies.