It’s a pretty well-known photograph, a satellite image of the Korean peninsula.  The bottom right corner is South Korea, the upper left is China, and the dark expanse in between in North Korea.  That one small, bright spot is Pyongyang; the rest is in darkness.

We all know that things are bad in North Korea, though I doubt we know just how bad.  The whole country is shrouded in such secrecy that it’s hard for anyone to really know what’s going on inside.  The best evidence we have indicates that it’s one of the most repressive regimes on the planet.  The Heritage Foundation ranked North Korea dead last in their 2015 Index of Economic Freedom.  It ranks as “worst of the worst” in freedom, political rights, and civil liberties by Freedom House’s Freedom in the World publication.  It’s so hard to get reliable information that the Fraser Institute didn’t even include North Korea in it’s Economic Freedom of the World publication.

When news does get out, it’s almost always disturbing – work camps, brutal executions, and a culture of fear that permeates every aspect of life for every person throughout the country.  And then we see a photo like this.

What we know with absolute certainty is that North Korea is dark like almost nowhere else on earth.  There’s very little reliable electricity, and in a country that’s cold — below freezing for much of the winter — that’s a major problem.

So when a recent editorial in North Korea’s major newspaper, a propaganda arm of the state, argues, “They [North Korea’s detractors] clap their hands and get loud over a satellite picture of our city with not much light, but the essence of society is not on flashy lights,” I simply despair.  We’re not talking about abstract political philosophy here.  We’re talking about people’s lives.

North Korea reminds me of why freedom is important, by offering perhaps the most extreme example of what life is like in the absence of freedom.  I know that, if not protected, freedom can erode completely, as it has in North Korea, and the consequences are dire.

This week, we have a unique opportunity to hear from Cherie Yang, who fled North Korea with her family and immigrated to the United States in 2007.  She knows firsthand the value of freedom, having been born in North Korea and risking everything to escape.  She’ll be here at the Locke Foundation on Thursday at noon.  We’d love for you to join us.