Yesterday we started looking at Young Pioneer Tours, a firm that conducts tours to North Korea – and one of whose recent clients, an American college student named Otto Warmbier, was sentenced on March 16 to 15 years at hard labor for stealing a propaganda banner from his hotel in Pyongyang.
You might think an American tourist in North Korea would know better than to commit even so minor an offense as stealing a propaganda banner from a hotel wall. After all, doesn’t everybody in the West know how monstrous the Kim regime is? The answer to this is that when you combine the ignorance about the world (and especially about Communism) that is common among young Westerners nowadays with the wall-to-wall B.S. on YPT’s website, Facebook page, Twitter feed, and Instagram account, all of which repeatedly insist that North Korea is a safe, fun country that loves tourists, it’s not hard to believe that Warmbier thought he was doing something innocuous.
Certainly YPT didn’t rush to take responsibility for Warmbier’s action. How exactly, you ask, did YPT respond to his sentencing? With the following statement, posted online by YPT representative Rowan Beard:
Young Pioneer Tours are fully aware of the recent sentencing of Otto Warmbier that was announced by KCNA on Wednesday the 16th March 2016. This should be viewed in similar context of previous cases of Americans being sentenced in the DPRK. We are continuing to work closely with relevant authorities to ensure a speedy and satisfactory outcome for Mr Warmbier. Thus for obvious reasons we cannot currently make any comments related to what is an ongoing case.
Pretty lame. That awkward sentence about how Warmbier’s case “should be viewed in similar context of previous cases,” etc., comes off as a feeble attempt to absolve YPT of any responsibility. Otherwise, Beard’s statement isn’t really saying anything. One might have expected that a company with a greater sense of responsibility and/or more of a sense of shame at its relationship with such a regime would, say, decide to call off all tours to North Korea until Warmbier is released. But YPT, of course, made no such decision.
James Kirkup of the Telegraph had a few choice things to say about YPT’s shameful stoogery. Noting that the firm’s site “makes North Korea [look] like just another delightful tourist destination,” with its “numerous photographs of young tourists having a jolly time around North Korea, marvelling at various monuments to the regime and giving (presumably ironic) salutes in the style of its soldiers,” Kirkup reminded readers that the people of North Korea “have seen every basic freedom and dignity stripped from them by the world’s worst and most oppressive regime….When it comes to human rights abuses, North Korea isn’t so much in a different league as a different planet.” Precisely.
Kirkup quoted a UN commission’s 2014 determination that “abuses in North Korea were without parallel in the contemporary world,” with prison camps housing some 200,000 regime opponents who experience “torture and abuse, starvation rations, and forced labor.” On one occasion, prison officials cooked an inmate’s baby and fed it to their dogs. North Korea, Kirkup concluded, isn’t a country; “it’s a prison camp and a torture chamber. Taking a tourist trip there means spectating on the murder and abuse of your fellow human beings, and putting hard currency into the hands of the people responsible for those crimes.”
Yep. But even in the midst of the Warmbier crisis, YPT has clung tenaciously to the line that North Korea isn’t as bad as you think. Just the other day, YPT retweeted an Al Jazeera video about three or four fake stories that have circulated recently about North Korea – the point obviously being to support the premise that the evils of Kim’s regime have been exaggerated.
By the way, YPT also conducts tours of other tyrant-run countries, including China, Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, and Turkmenistan, and it hasn’t stopped whitewashing those regimes, either. On March 10, YPT posted the following statement on its Facebook page: “A lot has already been said about Turkmenistan’s repressive nature, and cult of personality surrounding the leader. There’s more to the country than this.” On February 25, YPT posted on its blog an interview with an 86-year-old Red Army veteran that was pure propaganda, whitewashing Mao’s atrocities and attributing China’s recent economic success to Communism.
Despicable. How do these stooges find one another? And, having found one another and gone into such a disgusting business, how do they live with themselves?