In April, the North Korean government was rocked by scandal when it came to light that 13 of its citizens, all of whom were employees in a state-run restaurant operating in China, chose to defect to South Korea.
Though the neighboring country welcomed their arrival, Kim Jong Un’s regime denounced the exodus as a “mass abduction,” accusing South Korea of kidnapping the workers, 12 waitresses and one male restaurant manager. In response to the defection, North Korean officials also issued a video in which the remaining staff of the restaurant tearfully insisted that their colleagues had been tricked into leaving the country.
Recently, when the camera crew of CNN visited Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, to cover the Worker’s Party congress — a massive and secretive political event that had not taken place in 36 years — government officials used the presence of outside media outlets to present the families of the defectors to the public.
“Even now my sister is suffering in the accursed South Korea, starving and unconscious,” one family member of a defector told CNN. “When I think of that I lie awake frightened and cannot sleep.”
“I curse and condemn the South Korean puppet forces who allured and abducted our daughters,” one mother added.
Officials also told the crew that the waitresses are being kept in solitary confinement and have become sick after staging a hunger strike, two allegations that South Korea has insisted are “completely untrue.”
In North Korea, meanwhile, a state-run newspaper recently warned citizens to prepare for imminent famine, stating that they may have to “chew roots” to survive. Weeks later, Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un announced a MasterChef-style competition to uncover the best chef in the country — though with what ingredients is rather unclear.