Dutch Stamp Collector Detained in DPRK Gives Interview
Store front of Willem van der Bijl's stamp and coin shop on Zandelstraat in Utrecht (Photo: RTV Utrecht)
A Dutch citizen held by DPRK authorities during the summer of 2011 has given a media interview about his detention. Willem van der Bijl, a Utrecht shop owner and stamp collector, was detained and interrogated by the north’s Ministry of State Security for nearly two weeks from 29 July to 12 August. Van der Bijl told NRC Handelsblad that he was arrested on espionage charges and kept in a 2 m by 3 m (6 ft by 9 ft) cell, surrounded by four armed guards. He was interrogated three times a day, at 90 minute intervals, by two DPRK officials. When not being interrogated, Van der Bijl spent 15 hours per day sitting in the chair in his cell. Radio Netherlands Worldwide has a gist of the interview in its daily review of the Dutch press:
Philatelist Willem van der Bijl spent two weeks in a North Korean cell. The authorities mistrusted his Korean contacts and his collection of souvenirs. Not to mention the surreptitious snaps of an old village on his laptop: “You are trying to convince your leaders that our country is poor!” he was told.
Mr Van der Bijl’s account of his ordeal confirms quite a few suspicions about life under the Communist dictatorship. “I was in a cell, two by three metres with only a bed and a hard chair. I had to sit on the chair for 15 hours a day. I was surrounded by four soldiers 24 hours a day. I’m a positive fellow but it’s no wonder I began to lose my mind.” Thankfully he did not suffer any physical violence and after copying out a nine-page confession, he was eventually released.
So what was he doing in North Korea in the first place? “I love the people there,” he says. “They are sweet and naive … I’m an inquisitive soul, always have been. And it’s a fascinating place.” He admits he’s addicted and itching to go back. But he sighs “my friends and family won’t let me.”
Van der Bijl traveled to the DPRK 24 times, since 1998. He was presumed missing on or about 30 July 2011, when he was not his return flight to Holland. His colleagues and neighbors presumed that he had been detained. While he was under arrest, DPRK media published a short essay about elections to local power organs which was supposedly written by Van der Bijl and carried an image of him wearing a party lapel pin.