North Korean officials imprisoned Willem van der Bijl during a recent visit to the communist state. So it might be a little surprising that the Dutch stamp collector became a columnist for a state-run publication, endorsing the country’s elections system.
The thing is, it was just as much of a surprise to van der Bijl, who did not actually write or endorse the column.
In an interview with NK News, he explains that while visiting North Korea, he and a friend were suddenly arrested by 15 state agents after viewing a North Korean elections polling station.
“They jumped out of the vans and one guy—I later found out he was a major secret police officer—yelled at me in Korean,” van der Bijl tells the paper. “I was arrested for espionage and wrongdoings against the state. Next to him was a guy who translated the yelling into English.”
After being imprisoned and fed boiled rice for days, he was finally released back to his country. But later on, he heard about the fabricated elections endorsement.
So where did the “endorsement” actually come from?
Van der Bijl says he made an ironic comment to several journalists asking for his take on the North Korean voting experience, during which he said, “This opportunity gave me totally new view on how elections are held.”
“From their point of view, a foreigner who says he is surprised etc., and if you miss the ironic undertone, is a perfect piece of propaganda,” he said. “Later I found out, my ‘interview’ is on the Internet as well, and even signed by me, with what is indeed my signature, as a scan from my passport.”
In the full interview, van der Bijl goes into specific detail about how the “free” election system works in North Korea, which is definitely worth a read.
And despite being imprisoned and used as a propaganda tool, van der Bijl says he’d still like to make a return visit someday, albeit under less restrictive circumstances.
“I really would like to go there again, even tomorrow,” he said.