Sometimes you come across things that are just ... unlikely. Like the official webpage of the Democratic People's Republic of North Korea. For such an extremely secretive country - the Independent calls it "possibly the world's most paranoid and isolated nation" - North Korea definitely has a pretty well-put-together online presence:
So who's behind this fancy site? This guy: Alejandro Cao de Benos - or Zo Sun-il, as he is known in North Korea.
Cao is an IT consultant from Spain and the President of the Korean Friendship Association, an organization he founded in the year 2000, the year the site originally launched. Although he doesn't speak Korean, Cao spends about half the year in Pyongyang, North Korea, hosting foreign delegations, acting as an intermediary for external investors, making documentaries or just visiting the region.
He also makes media appearances on behalf of the regime, like this interview he did with Al-Jazeera in 2009:
The North Korea website features a shop where visitors can purchase propaganda posters, t-shirts, bags, and yes, mugs, as well as extensive articles and information about the regime's official policy.
But it does not offer any information about the reality inside North Korea. Details of life inside the country are scarce, but those that do emerge are grim, like a new report from South Korea's National Human Rights Commission that documents the suffering of roughly 200,000 political prisoners in North Korea, who are held in a network of labour camps. The report says the prisoners are subjected to malnutrition, exposure and overwork, as well as torture at the hands of their guards.
It's hard to get a handle on what daily life is like inside North Korea. This BBC guide to the country includes some of the following observations:
• Acute power shortages curtail life outside major cities to daylight hours
• Most roads are deserted as there are few cars
• In the mid 1990s, due to economic mismanagement, a severe famine hit the country in which the UN estimates between 500,000 and 2 million people may have died
• The government strictly controls all aspects of daily life, with citizens divided into three socio-political classes: "hostile", "wavering" and "committed"
• No one has access to the Internet
• All media is state-controlled, and TVs and radios are fixed-tuned to the state channels
And for a visual look inside the country, TIME magazine published this photo gallery. Here a few of the shots:
In The Subway
On A Pyongyang Street
Airport Departure Lounge
An Empty Highway