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Daily Star / News - Politics

BBC risks Kim’s WRATH: Threat to North Korean athletes over Beeb interviews

NORTH Korean athletes face punishment for speaking to the media at the Winter Olympics including Britain's BBC, it has been warned.

Leader Kim Jong-un has allowed 22 athletes to cross the border to South Korea for the Pyeongchang Games.

It has ushered in a thaw in relations between North and South, who marched under a "unified" Korea flag in the opening ceremony.

But athletes from the communist state are to be monitored by spies, we previously revealed, who will wield the threat of the death penalty for misbehaviour.

And expert in Asian security, Chris Ogden, believes another way athletes may land themselves in hot water is to speak to foreign media.


WRATH: BBC interviews could be putting North Korean athletes in danger

“They will have minders”

Chris Ogden

He believes the team will be warned about speaking to any foreign journalists, and are unlikely to talk to any reporter because of the risks involved.

However, if any do ignore Kim's orders and step out of line during an interview – for instance with the BBC – they may face punitive consequences.

And under extreme circumstances – for instance, being recorded off the record speaking ill of Kim – it could even land them in prison.

The University of St Andrews lecturer told Daily Star Online: "They will have minders, I think, that will go with them and they will also instruct them about who to talk to and who not to talk to, and warn them about what will happen if they talk to the wrong people.

"Their (media) interaction would be quite limited.

"Whoever's in charge of the team would warn them about who they can talk to. They can't step out of line, it could threaten their livelihood.

"I think anyone who has become an athlete in North Korea, is doing better than the average person. So they will be given benefits, and saying anything negative risks losing their livelihood.

"The average life in North Korea is quite precarious, little private income, little personal freedom, really the athletes are quite privileged.

"I think the chances of saying anything negative are highly unlikely. I don't think it would go down very well, anything that makes the regime look bad.

"When they go home, they are likely to lose all their privileges. They might end up in a prison. They all know the risk."

Dr Udo Merkel, an expert in sport in North Korea, told this website that athletes are likely to be banned from talking to the media completely.

Commenting on footballer Kwang-Song Han – the on-loan Perugia footballer who could join an English Premier League team – and North Korean athletes at the Games, he believes rules will be imposed.

He told Daily Star Online: "I think there will be a clear set of rules that the North Korean government will have given to the athlete.

"In terms of their wider engagement and there will be some clear guidelines and they will constantly be accompanied by a small number of minders who will make sure they don't do anything that will jeopardise the North Korean government.

"For example not to talk about his home country in public to the media.

"I'm not quite sure about the punishment, but I'm not sure whether they will actually allow him to go on a media interview because there obviously is a risk they might slip up. So they might just prevent it."

Daily Star Online has asked the BBC if reporters have been told to avoid interviewing North Korea athletes.