The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) systematically tramples over the rights of its people and is widely accepted as the most totalitarian regime on the planet. The government does not allow for free and independent media, political opposition, religious freedom, or civil society. Punishment for defying the regime varies from sentences in some of the harshest prisons in the world to death. Kim Jong-Un succeeded his father Kim Jong-Il in December 2011, and continues to exacerbate the country’s dire human rights record.
A tightly policed embargo of all information coming into and out of North Korea has forced human rights groups to be creative in their methods of reaching out to North Korean citizens.
HRF’s Disrupt North Korea project aims to help civil society groups operating in South Korea to hack North Korea in three ways:
- Balloon launches carrying information and equipment over the border.
- Radio broadcasting using short and medium-wave signals.
- Smuggling equipment and information through routes along the North Korean border with China.
HRF began its on-the-ground work in North Korea by partnering with defector and pro-democracy activist Park Sang Hak and his organization, Fighters for a Free North Korea (FFNK), to launch weather balloons carrying information over the border in 2013. In January 2014, HRF and FFNK completed a successful balloon launch that carried transistor radios, USBs loaded with the complete Korean language Wikipedia, DVDs, and 500,000 pro-democracy leaflets over the border. The launch was covered widely by international media, and HRF described its new initiative in The Atlantic.
On August 2-3, HRF hosted Hack North Korea, a gathering of Bay Area technologists, investors, engineers, designers, activists and North Korean defectors that aimed to spark new ideas for getting information into the world's most closed and isolated society. The participants built on this existing knowledge and brainstorm new and innovative ways of getting information past the North Korean regime’s information blockade. After hearing presentations, a panel of judges composed of experts and North Korean defectors selected a winning team. HRF plans to implement the winning idea into actual field operations.
HRF continues to look for more ways to support technologies and initiatives that at disrupting the North Korean regime's informations monopoly.
The Disrupt North Korea project was co-founded by Silicon Valley angel investor Alexander Lloyd.