North Korean Cheerleaders Sent to Prison

Fri Feb 17, 7:13 AM ET

SEOUL, South Korea - Twenty-one members of North Korean cheering squads who traveled to South Korea for international sports events are being held in a prison camp for talking about what they saw in the South, a news report said Friday.

Citing a North Korean man who recently fled to China, South Korea's Chosun Ilbo newspaper said the 21 young women had been detained about last November in the same prison camp where the man had been held.

South Korea's National Intelligence Service didn't immediately confirm or deny the report.

In 2002, communist North Korea sent hundreds of female cheerleaders to the Asian Games in South Korea's Busan, where their tightly synchronized routines drew worldwide attention. The North sent similar cheering squads to South Korea in 2003 and 2005.

The defector, whose real name wasn't given, said the female cheering squad apparently violated a pledge not to speak about what they saw in South Korea, the Chosun Ilbo reported.

Citing another unnamed defector, the newspaper said the cheerleaders had pledged before going to South Korea that they would treat the country as "enemy territory" and never speak about what they saw there, accepting punishment if they broke the promise.

North Korea's government insists it doesn't abuse human rights, but it has long been accused of holding political prisoners in camps under life-threatening conditions. Between 150,000 and 200,000 political prisoners are believed to be held in the North, according to the U.S. State Department.