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North Korea denies punishing citizens for not mourning enough

By Jiyeon Lee and Jethro Mullen, CNN
January 16, 2012 -- Updated 1030 GMT (1830 HKT)
North Koreans mourn the death of their leader Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang last month.
North Koreans mourn the death of their leader Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang last month.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The state-run North Korean news agency attacks "misinformation" from "reptile media"
  • South Korean website reports North Koreans were punished for not mourning enough
  • The mourning concerns Kim Jong Il, the North Korea leader who died last month
  • The South Korean report is based on an anonymous source inside North Korea

Seoul, South Korea (CNN) -- North Korea has angrily denied allegations that it punished some of its citizens for inadequately mourning the death of its late leader Kim Jong Il.

Kim died last month after 17 years of repressive rule over the secretive state, setting off deep uncertainty about North Korea's future.

The North Korean regime commemorated his death with elaborately choreographed ceremonies broadcast on state-run media that showed crowds of mourners beating their chests and wailing with grief in the snow-covered streets of Pyongyang.

Over the weekend, a report from the state-run Korean Central News Agency lashed out at "misinformation" that citizens who had "failed to show tears at memorial services were sent to a concentration camp."

Mourning Kim Jong Il
Analyzing North Korean mourning
North Korea image makers hard at work
North Korean hard line on South remains

It attributed the allegations to "reptile media under the control" of a group of "traitors" that it said were connected to President Lee Myung-bak of South Korea.

The news agency appeared to be referring to a report last week by the South Korean news website Daily NK, which monitors developments in the North through a network of sources inside the country.

Citing an unidentified person in North Korea, Daily NK reported that "the authorities are handing down at least six months in a labor-training camp to anybody who didn't participate in the organized gatherings during the mourning period, or who did participate but didn't cry and didn't seem genuine."

The president of Daily NK, Park In-ho, said that the information for its report had come from a North Korean citizen in North Hamgyong Province, which borders China. The unidentified North Korean relayed the information to a Daily NK reporter using an illegal Chinese mobile phone -- commonly used items among people living in the border areas -- Park said.

Information from the North is usually communicated to Daily NK reporters in China, who then pass it on to South Korea, according to Park.

North Korea significantly restricts the ability of international news organizations to freely report within its territory.

Daily NK was founded and then spun off by the Network for North Korean Democracy and Human Rights Network, a nonprofit organization that aims to promote human rights in North Korea. Daily NK has received tens of thousands of dollars in funding from the National Endowment for Democracy, a U.S. nonprofit organization that is supported financially by the U.S. Congress through the Department of State.

The Korean Central News Agency report over the weekend expressed anger that the Daily NK report had coincided with Pyongyang's own announcement of a prisoner amnesty in connection with the birthdays this year of two late North Korean dictators -- Kim Jong Il and his father, Kim Il Sung, the founder of the North Korean nation.

"This evil deed could be done only by the despicable guys hell-bent on letting loose invectives and telling lies," the KCNA report said.

North Korea has not specified how many prisoners will be released under amnesty, due to begin February 1.

International organizations estimate that the North Korean regime holds approximately 200,000 political prisoners.

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