UPDATE 1 — North Korea releases Dutch stamp dealer accused of subversive activities

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PYONGYANG/UTRECHT (BNO NEWS) — North Korea on Saturday released a Dutch stamp dealer after he was earlier accused of subversive activities during a business trip to the country, a family friend told Dutch media on Sunday.

Willem van der Bijl, 59, who is the owner of a post stamp collection shop in the Dutch city of Utrecht, traveled to the Asian country in early July to buy North Korean stamps and paintings. He was scheduled to fly back to the Netherlands on July 30 but never took the flight.


Van der Bijl’s family and business partner later reported him missing to the Dutch government after he did not arrive back in the Netherlands as planned and had not contacted anyone. He finally arrived back in the Netherlands on Saturday and said he had been arrested by North Korean authorities.

Van der Bijl is a known admirer of North Korea and its propaganda paintings and frequently visits the country. “What I noticed is that there is quite a difference between the intentions of Mr. Van der Bijl and the interpretation of the North Korean government,” Coen de Keuster, a friend of Van der Bijl, told local broadcaster RTV Utrecht.

Keuster said Van der Bijl was arrested after making photos which the North Korean authorities deemed ‘inappropriate and dangerous.’ He was eventually accused of subversive activities while Van der Bijl had no such intentions, Keuster explained.

Van der Bijl was picked up by his family at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport on Saturday and told his family he had been treated well during his arrest. He was allowed to leave North Korea after signing a confession, RTV Utrecht reported.

However, two North Korean employees of Van der Bijl remain missing and are believed to remain in custody. The two North Korean employees worked for Van der Bijl from an office in the city of Pyongsong, which is north of the capital of Pyongyang.

Neither the North Korean nor the Dutch government has discussed the case, but North Korean state-run media previously mentioned Van der Bijl on two occasions. It however made no mention of his arrest.

The first time was on July 25 when the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that Van der Bijl had visited a polling station on July 24 when North Koreans voted in local elections. “Wim van der Bijl from [the] Netherlands noted his visit to the polling station helped him know better about the reality of the DPRK,” KCNA reported.

And earlier this week, a posting on the website of the state-run Pyongyang Times showed a small photo of Van der Bijl along with a brief personal message about the elections. He allegedly said it was his 24th visit to the country, which is officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

“Looking round the poll, I have been greatly impressed by the free and democratic elections and I have had a better understanding of the DPRK’s reality,” Van der Bijl said, according to the newspaper. “In the DPRK every citizen is eligible to vote and to be elected. Those who have worked a lot for the people are elected as deputies.”

Van der Bijl further described the election system in the country as ‘really excellent.’ “What I’d like to say more is that whenever I visit the country I can see more and more modern structures rising here and there. And I realize the developing reality of the country,” he reportedly said.

But it remains unknown if Van der Bijl was the actual writer of the opinion piece. The article said Van der Bijl will return to North Korea in 2012 to commemorate the 100th birthday of the late President Kim Il Sung, which his family previously confirmed.

During the local elections in North Korea last month, all voters approved the candidates who ran unopposed. Residents in the Asian country are legally required to vote during elections unless they have left the country with approval or if they work at sea. And although voters can vote against the candidate by picking up a red pen, doing so would result in immediate arrest and severe sentences.

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