Delegation in international women's march to promote peace and reconciliation
Seoul - Arab Today
A group of international women peace activists broadcast a landmark press conference from North Korea on Saturday, using Twitter's new video live-streaming app Periscope, apparently with official approval.
The group of 30 women, led by American feminist Gloria Steinem, are scheduled to cross the demilitarised zone (DMZ) dividing North and South Korea on Sunday to promote peace and reconciliation.
Their 15-minute press conference was held in a Pyongyang hotel room, and although the video feed was weak and dropped repeatedly, official minders who accompany foreign visitors to North Korea at all times were notably absent.
In a country where internal and external communication is highly restricted and carefully monitored, the use of live streaming technology like Periscope would appear to pose an intriguing challenge for the authorities.
Media events in North Korea -- especially ones involving foreign journalists -- are usually tightly scripted and choreographed to ensure the official line is perfectly adhered to.
"We did tell them," the co-organiser of the peace crossing, Christine Ahn, said when asked if the group's minders had been made aware of their plan to live-stream the event.
"We're free to say whatever we wish," Steinem added.
North Korea has a domestic Intranet which allows its very limited number of users to exchange state-approved information and little more.
Outside of hotels catering to foreigners, access to the full-blown Internet is for the super-elite only, meaning a few hundred people or maybe 1,000 at most.
Tools like Periscope and its rival Meerkat allow images to be sent in real time, avoiding post-recording censorship and allowing the broadcast of interactive events like Saturday's press conference, during which journalists watching outside North Korea could send in questions.
More than two million people in North Korea use mobile phones but almost all lack Internet connectivity or the ability to make overseas calls.
Coleen Baik, the member of the women's peace group who live-streamed the press conference, has also sent three other clips using Periscope in recent days of the group moving around Pyongyang.
Baik told the website North Korea Tech that she had paid $250 for a basic mobile service and then $450 for 2GB of data.
"Expensive, but actually not as much as I expected," she said.
- 'Not ignorant' of rights abuses -
The activists' peace enterprise has not been without controversy, with critics suggesting they are being used as a propaganda tool by the North which has a grim record of human right abuse.
"We are not ignorant of the fact that there are restrictions here. It's perfectly clear," Steinem said.
"One of our biggest considerations from the beginning was that we include human rights in our declaration of purpose," she added.
The group had wanted to cross the DMZ through the Panmunjom "truce village", where North and South Korean soldiers stand just metres apart in a permanent face-off over the border.
But South Korea opposed the plan and the women said Friday that they had agreed "with regret" to Seoul's preference for a road crossing on the western part of the border.