North Korea berates Obama over The Interview release

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Billboard advertising The Interview (19 December)Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The Interview was released on Christmas Day, despite threats to movie-goers

North Korea has condemned US President Barack Obama over the release of the film The Interview, about a fictional plot to kill its leader Kim Jong-un.

The National Defence Commission (NDC) also accused the US of shutting down North Korea's internet - and described Mr Obama as "reckless" and "a monkey".

Another internet shut-down was observed hours later, Chinese state media said.

Sony Pictures originally pulled the film after a cyber-attack and threats - a move criticised by Mr Obama.

He joined critics who had warned that freedom of expression was under threat if the movie was shelved.

Sony later reconsidered and released The Interview on Christmas Day.

The controversial film was shown in some US cinemas and is available online, with several hundred independent cinemas coming forward and offering to screen it.

However, larger theatres decided not to show the film.

'Righteous deed'

In a statement issued on Saturday, North Korea's NDC spokesman denounced the US for screening the "dishonest and reactionary movie hurting the dignity of the supreme leadership of the DPRK [North Korea] and agitating terrorism".

President Obama, the statement said, "is the chief culprit who forced the Sony Pictures Entertainment to indiscriminately distribute the movie", blackmailing cinemas in the US.

It added: "Obama always goes reckless in words and deeds like a monkey in a tropical forest."

The NDC also accused Washington of "groundlessly linking the unheard of hacking at the Sony Pictures Entertainment to the DPRK".

Analysis: Stephen Evans, BBC News, Seoul

Image source, Sony Pictures

The Interview is a classic Hollywood romp involving two lads who go to a strange place and get seduced (in several senses).

And it is very funny. That's partly because it is also a very good political satire.

It is powerful because it depicts Kim Jong-un as a vain, buffoonish despot, alternating between threats and weeping that he's been misunderstood. The people around him have all the signs of fear you might expect with a despot - they second-guess his likes and dislikes.

Maybe he - and they - were right to fear the film. North Korean defectors sometimes smuggle USB sticks with films and soaps into the closed-off country, and there is a view in the south that these are a particularly powerful means of undermining the regime in Pyongyang. If that's so, The Interview might be a good candidate for inclusion.

That fear may explain the North Korean leadership's intemperate, deeply racist language. It's not the first time it has called President Obama a monkey.

FBI accusation

Sony Pictures had initially pulled the film after suffering an unprecedented hacking attack at the hands of a group calling itself the Guardians of Peace.

The hackers also threatened to carry out a terrorist attack on cinemas showing the film on its scheduled release date of Christmas Day.

Last week, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) said its analysis pointed the finger at North Korea.

However, many cybersecurity experts have come forward to dispute this assertion.

Media caption,

The Interview screened at a small number of US cinemas

At the time, North Korea denied being behind the attack but described it as a "righteous deed".

The country subsequently suffered a severe internet outage.

On Saturday, China's state news agency Xinhua said: "At Pyongyang time 19:30 (10:30 GMT) North Korea's internet and mobile 3G network came to a standstill, and had not returned to normal as of 21:30."

Its reporters in North Korea had found the internet "very unstable" throughout the day.

Cybersecurity firm Dyn Research also said that North Korea suffered a "countrywide internet blackout" on Saturday.

The Interview saga

The Interview features James Franco and Seth Rogen as two journalists who are granted an audience with Mr Kim. The CIA then enlists the pair to assassinate him.

  • 22 November: Sony computer systems hacked, exposing embarrassing emails and personal details about stars
  • 7 December: North Korea denies accusations that it is behind the cyber-attack, but praises it as a "righteous deed"
  • 16 December: "Guardians of Peace" hacker group threatens 9/11-type attack on cinemas showing film; New York premiere cancelled
  • 17 December: Leading US cinema groups say they will not screen film; Sony cancels Christmas Day release
  • 19 December: FBI concludes North Korea orchestrated hack; President Obama calls Sony cancellation "a mistake"
  • 20 December: North Korea proposes joint inquiry with US into hacks, rejected by the US
  • 22 December: North Korea suffers a severe internet outage; US authorities decline to comment
  • 23 December: Sony bosses appear to change their minds, saying they will now give The Interview a limited Christmas Day release
  • 25 December: The Interview is shown in some US cinemas and released online