A teenager has risked his life to expose a huge North Korean secret
Having grown up watching films like James Bond and The Bourne Identity, all of us at one time or another have imagined indulging in a little bit of detective work, breaking the codes and beating the bad guy, casually saving the world in the process. Most wannabe spies remain exactly that: wannabes. However, this scenario almost became one English 18-year-old's reality, when he endangered his life to expose a North Korean secret.
Sam Chamberlain, from Yeovil, Somerset, tempted fate when he spotted a goods wagon topped with straw while on a controlled tour in North Korea. Strongly suspecting the train to be defying sanctions, Sam waited until the backs of his minders were turned before using his smartphone to film - risking the wrath of the communist state's supreme leader Kim Jong-un in the process.
However, the perilous operation came this close to turning into disaster when Sam's smartphone was subject to a check by officials. Those checking the phone reportedly went through the photos and videos, eventually coming to the footage of the "hidden cargo". However, fortunately for the Eton College student, staff botched the examination, meaning that Sam escaped with the footage intact.
If he had been found out, the gap-year student could have received a death sentence from the North Korean government, who are not known for being lenient towards foreigners who disobey their strict rules. Last year, American student Otto Warmbier died following a spell in custody after authorities accused him of committing a hostile act against the country by stealing a propaganda poster from his hotel.
Speaking to British newspaper The Sun, Sam described his dangerous dive into the world of North Korea, stating: "It was nerve-wracking when my camera was checked because I'd already videoed the train. But thankfully the minder didn't watch the footage long enough to see the pictures of the carriages which I believe were carrying hidden cargo."
Sam, who also filmed packages stacked behind the walls in an area patrolled by troops, explained why he believes the trains were transporting clandestine cargo: “It looked like they were trying to hide whatever was on the train under straw. It was at a remote military compound and you can see guards around the train.”
The incident comes after North Korea has been hit with crippling UN sanctions, a punishment for the many nuclear missile tests that Kim Jong-un has sanctioned over the past year. Last year was a time of rapid progress for the country's missile program and the regime managed to fire 23 missiles during 16 tests.
However, they were stopped in their tracks when the United Nations voted unanimously in December 2017 to adopt a new set of draconian US-drafted sanctions that would strangle their energy supplies, tighten restrictions on smuggling and stop North Koreans working overseas for more than 24 months. Furthermore, in January 2018, the US announced additional sanctions aimed at stopping North Korea’s nuclear weapons development, and urged China and Russia to expel North Koreans raising funds for the programmes.
If the footage Sam Chamberlain captured is considered by the UN to show that North Korea is dodging sanctions, they could be in very hot water. However, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea have made it clear in the past that they do not approve of the new regulations, even declaring it to be an "act of war". In a statement put out by the official KCNA news agency, North Korea’s foreign ministry claimed that the US was terrified by its nuclear force and was getting “more and more frenzied in the moves to impose the harshest-ever sanctions and pressure on our country”.
“We define this ‘sanctions resolution’ rigged up by the US and its followers as a grave infringement upon the sovereignty of our republic, as an act of war violating peace and stability in the Korean peninsula and the region, and categorically reject the ‘resolution’,” the ministry said.
Nonetheless, there has not been definitive proof that the footage Sam captured shows any wrongdoing whatsoever and experts have urged people to keep calm until proof of misconduct is asserted. The Sun also spoke to Korea expert Catherine Jones, of the University of Warwick, who stated that it is not clear exactly what is going on in the video.
So, for now, we wait until experts draw a definitive conclusion on the footage. It could be something, it could be nothing at all. All we can really do is be grateful that the 18-year-old student who captured the footage got out in time and didn't meet a nasty end.