SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea rushed to the defense of American civil liberties on Tuesday, saying revelations of mass surveillance operations showed the United States was the "kingpin" of rights abuse.
Rights groups and defectors have long accused the North, one of the world's most closed societies, of totalitarian practices. These include brutal suppression of dissent, the operation of a prison camp network holding some 200,000 inmates and a "military-first" policy that has led to periodic famines.
A commentary in the state newspaper Minju Joson said allegations of monitoring of telephones and emails by former CIA contractor Edward Snowden meant Americans and foreigners alike had been "subject to the espionage that has been applied indiscriminately by the U.S. intelligence institution".
"...This clearly proves once again the U.S. is a kingpin of human rights abuses as it puts the world under its watch network and has conducted espionage against mankind," said the commentary, cited by the official KCNA news agency.
"Each individual is entitled to live and develop with dignity as a social being," it said. "But in American society, where the jungle law prevails, only the strong men's rights over the weak men are recognized."
It said that explanations by U.S. officials that the programs sought to prevent terrorism were "just a lame excuse to cover up (the) crime".
Snowden, believed to be in hiding in Hong Kong, hit back on Monday at critics who denounce him as a traitor for revealing the operations. He said he made his disclosures to counter "a litany of lies" by senior officials to U.S. Congress.
The United Nations has launched an investigation into alleged crimes against humanity in North Korea. Authorities in Pyongyang deny the existence of prison camps and say they will not cooperate with the U.N. probe.
In March, as tensions between North Korea and the United States soared over Pyongyang's nuclear program, with the North threatening nuclear strikes against the United States and South Korea, KCNA declared the North free of rights abuses saying "they cannot exist".
It accused the United States and South Korea of launching "a desperate effort to evade a shameful defeat in the nuclear standoff with (North Korea) and invent a pretext for invasion and pressure".
North Korea is also believed to be running a large corps of computer experts aimed at hacking into the networks of governments and financial institutions, most notably blamed for the 2011 shutdown of a South Korean commercial bank.
(Writing by Ron Popeski; Editing by Nick Macfie)