World

North Korea expels BBC journalist as party congress continues

North Korea on Monday expelled three BBC journalists it had detained days earlier for allegedly "insulting the dignity" of the authoritarian country, which has invited scores of foreign media for its ongoing ruling party congress.

Rupert Wingfield-Hayes wrote an apology, will never be allowed in to country again

Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, a BBC journalist, had to write an apology letter and will never be allowed back in to the country. North Korea officials said his news coverage spoke ill of the system and the leadership. (BBC/Associated Press)

North Korea on Monday expelled three BBC journalists it had detained days earlier for allegedly "insulting the dignity" of the authoritarian country, which has invited scores of foreign media for its ongoing ruling party congress.

Correspondent Rupert Wingfield-Hayes and his team had been scheduled to leave Friday after accompanying a group of Nobel laureates on a North Korea trip. Instead, the journalists were stopped at the airport, detained and questioned.

O Ryong Il, secretary-general of the North's National Peace Committee, said Wingfield-Hayes' news coverage distorted facts and "spoke ill of the system and the leadership of the country." He said Wingfield-Hayes wrote an apology, was expelled Monday and would never be admitted into the country again.

The BBC said Wingfield-Hayes' producer Maria Byrne and cameraman Matthew Goddard were also detained and expelled.

The three arrived in Beijing on a flight Monday evening. Wingfield-Hayes said only that he was glad to be out and would have a statement later. His colleagues did not speak.

"We are very disappointed that our reporter Rupert Wingfield-Hayes and his team have been deported from North Korea after the government took offence at material he had filed," the BBC said in a statement. "Four BBC staff, who were invited to cover the Workers Party Congress, remain in North Korea and we expect them to be allowed to continue their reporting."​

Kim delivers 3-hour speech

More than 100 foreign journalists are in the capital for North Korea's first party congress in 36 years, though they have been prevented from actually covering the proceedings and the more than 3,400 delegates. They've had to depend on reports from state media, which reports event hours later or even the next day. 

Foreign reporters have been forced to follow North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's speech to the Workers' Party of Korea congress through the televisions at their hotel in Pyongyang. (Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

The Korean Central News Agency said Monday that the congress was to enter its fourth day. On Sunday, the congress adopted a resolution to strive toward a more prosperous and modern economy and stressed that it will push for the peaceful reunification of the Korean Peninsula, but warned that if Seoul "opts for a war," its military will mercilessly wipe out all opposition.

Also Sunday, leader Kim Jong Un delivered a three-hour speech to delegates to review the country's situation and progress since the last congress was held in 1980, before Kim was born.

In his speech, Kim announced a five-year economic plan, the first one made public since the 1980s, when his grandfather, "eternal president" and national founder Kim Il Sung, was in power.

The speech, in which he said North Korea was a responsible nuclear state that will not use its nuclear weapons first unless its sovereignty was threatened, underscores Kim's dual focus on building up the military while trying to kick-start the North's economy, which has seen some growth in recent years but remains hamstrung by international sanctions over its nuclear program.

In his three-hour speech Sunday, Kim Jong-Un stressed the need for talks to ease animosities with South Korea, but said the country would 'mercilessly wipe out' opposition if Seoul opts for a war. (Reuters)

Walking a fine balance between the two, he said the North is willing to develop friendly relations even with countries that had in the past been hostile toward it — a possible overture to the United States.

Journalists taken to wire factory

Officials have dutifully kept the foreign media busy with trips around the showcase capital to show them the places it most wants them to see — a maternity hospital with seemingly state-of-the-art equipment, a wire-making factory where managers say salaries and production are both going up, the humble birthplace of national founder Kim Il Sung, which has been converted into a sort of museum-park with a large "funfair" right next door.

Instead of covering votes and speeches, reporters have been taken on the subway and given a ride on the newest train, which North Korean officials claim to have developed themselves. They've been shown a farm, and have been taken around an apartment in a new complex of high-rises, government offices and shops on Scientists' Street.

One of the sites foreign journalists were taken to was the neonatal ward of the Pyongyang Maternity Hospital. (Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

On Monday, the media buses headed off to a silk factory.

The selected sites clearly, and by design, shed little light on what life in the capital, or the country, is for the average North Korean.

There are indications that North Korean officials had considered giving visiting journalists some access to larger events than a trip to a wire factory. At one point they were told on very short notice to dress nicely, then were bused to a conference hall where rows of black limousines used by top party officials were parked. After waiting impatiently to be allowed in, they were told simply and without explanation: "The program has changed. Go back and have lunch."

It's possible the "golden chance" may yet to materialize — the congress is expected to continue for a couple more days. In the meantime, foreign journalists' main opportunity to cover the event will come through the televisions in the hotel media room.

No plans to end nuclear program

Kim made clear on Sunday that the North has no intention of unilaterally giving up its nuclear program or bending to international pressure aimed at forcing its regime into decline or collapse.

The only glimpse reporters have been able to get of average North Koreans has been through bus windows on their way from one scheduled tour to another. (Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

Kim said North Korea "will sincerely fulfil its duties for the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons and work to realize the denuclearization of the world," but that statement is predicated on other countries — again, mainly the United States — also giving up their weapons, a highly unlikely scenario.

On South Korea, Kim Jong Un stressed the need for talks to ease cross-border animosities and emphasized reunification under a federal system, a decades-old proposal that would largely keep the North's brand of socialism intact that has received no traction with Seoul.

"But if the South Korean authorities opt for a war, persisting in the unreasonable 'unification of social systems,' we will turn out in the just war to mercilessly wipe out the anti-reunification forces and achieve the historic cause of national reunification, long-cherished desire of all Koreans," he said.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.