Friday, 21 February 2014

John Short broke the law. If you deliberately flout the law

of another country and end up facing their legal system then you only have yourself to blame. Please note, I said "deliberately flout". If you unwittingly break a law you could not reasonably be expected to know about then the situation may be different.
But someone like John Short only has himself to blame.
For those of you who do not know Mr Short took himself off to North Korea and has, allegedly, been caught distributing "religious material". The rigid, totalitarian and utterly terrifying North Korean regime does not like that.  
Mr Short has been to North Korea before. He has also lived in Hong Kong for many years. He has spent time in Myanmar and Vietnam. He knows Asia. He has been arrested for similar activities before.
Mr Short is still an Australian citizen. Our diplomatic services are now expected to swing behind him and try to extricate him from his plight.
Complicating the issue is the fact that Australia does not have "diplomatic relations" with North Korea. The Australian Embassy in South Korea has to work with the embassy of the Swedish Embassy in order to do the delicate work of trying to get him released.
The cost to Australian tax payers is going to be high, very high. Every effort will be made because, without it, Mr Short could die in a labour camp. He is reported to be 75 years of age. It is unlikely he would survive long in the reported conditions of those camps.  
But there is another problem that Mr Short seems not to have considered. He is putting other people in danger, the people he no doubt believes he is "helping".
If you are a local and caught with religious materials in North Korea you will quickly find yourself sent off to a labour camp - and your family will almost certainly be sent with you. Even if you are the relative who reports the individual you are at risk of being sent because you should have ensured that the individual had no interest in such material in the first place. It doesn't matter if you pick such items up in the street (not that such littering is likely) you best put it straight in the bin without reading it. You are not supposed to take any interest in such things.
Mr Short is either naïve or arrogant. I think the latter is more likely than the former. He knew what would happen if he was caught - and he knew he almost certainly would be caught. He no doubt believes he has an absolute right to do what he did and that he has an absolute right to have a great deal of taxpayer money spent on him - even when he, while still an Australian citizen, has spent more time out of the country than in it during his life time.
My own view is that yes, he has the right to assistance - simply because he is a human being - but I also believe he should be required to reimburse the government for the expenditure he has caused.
Why? Because his actions do more harm than good.
North Korea would be an appalling place in which to live. Nobody is safe there. There are no rights there. "Reunification" does not appear likely just yet. Many in the south do not want it because they see the north as being a financial drain when it happens. China almost certainly does not want North Korea opened up for the same reason.
The United Nations report - which I have just begun to read - will do little to help. Nobody really seems prepared to pay the price which needs to be paid to assist the North Koreans gain the basic human rights and dignity that most of the world takes for granted.
We won't do that but we will spend money endeavouring to rescue one man who deliberately flouted the law. It is money that could be better spent on the children of North Korea.


JO said...

I'm not sure that anyone has the answer to 'freeing' (whatever that means) the North Koreans - I can't see anyone sanctioning a military intervention.

But taking it on single-handedly can be see as brave, or foolish. I'm with you - I think it's foolish, because it won't actually change anything.

But I hope that doesn't stop brave people challenging totalitarian regimes - where would Myanmar (Burma) be without Aung Sang Su Chi? Or South Africa without Nelson Mandela.

catdownunder said...

I wonder Jo whether they need someone to do it from the inside? Aung Sung Sui Chi and Nelson Mandela came from inside and others as well.