New restrictions in effect on contact with foreign nationals

Choi Song Min  |  2016-02-17 18:13
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In an effort to keep North Korean officials from straying away from acceptable ideology, the State Security Department [SSD] is cracking down strictly on contact with foreign nationals. This latest measure joins a growing list of control mechanisms implemented by the leadership against a backdrop of continued political turbulence. 

On February 15, Daily NK spoke with a source in South Pyongan Province, who reported that Pyongyang trade officials and high-ranking Central Party cadres are now unable to speak with foreign nationals without receiving the prior approval of the SSD.

Two additional sources in Pyongyang were able to substantiate these claims. 

These days, anyone who walks down the street and dares to say hello, or even just shake hands with a foreign national whom they know, will, at the very least, be summoned by the SSD, he said. 

To illustrate his point, he cited a recent case wherein a trade sector Party cadre saw his downfall from one such interaction. While waiting in the lobby of the Taedonggang Hotel to meet another trader, a foreign national with whom this Party cadre was acquainted coincidentally approached and offered his hand in greeting; in the confusion of the moment, the Party cadre automatically shook his hand. 

The SSD immediately interrogated him for having contact with a foreign national without prior approval; he stood up for himself and responded by saying, Is it right that if a foreign national says, hello and offers you his hand you should respond with lets shake after I get permission? Well, after that, they dismissed him from his position right then and there, the source explained.

It is unsurprising, then, with rules this strict regarding 'face-to-face meetings,' that anyone going on a business trip outside of the country including China, must be accompanied by a member of the SSD. In addition, the security personnel trailing cadres on their business trips must take detailed notes regarding every tiny movement the cadre makes and submit a full report to their superiors. 

Even meetings that take place domestically with foreigners require North Korean participants to submit what is known as an application for a face-to-face meeting to the Department of Domestic Conspiracy Research 15 days ahead of the actual encounter. 

Should such permission be granted, meetings can only take place in a state-approved hotel or in a specified meeting room in the border customs office, and the meeting itself must be finished within a designated amount of time. The fact that we can only have contact with foreign nationals in a pre-arranged room under the watchful eyes of a guard is not so dissimilar from sitting down with an inmate at a jail. Its just beyond words how it makes you feel.

Moreover, state-sanctioned meeting rooms in the China-North Korea border region customs offices and the upscale Pyongyang hotels are crawling with wiretaps installed by the local SSD branch to ensure that discussions broach business matters only. 

Crossing the border invites still more scrutiny, as Party cadres who embark on business trips abroad must submit a daily self-criticism report detailing their schedule down to every hour and minute to the relevant Party committee, where it undergoes an ideological review. 

As this examination becomes increasingly more like a test to see if one has been turned by the enemy, lately, Party cadres have been reluctant to go abroad for business, the source asserted. 

Though at the workplace things are not much better. It is generally the case that in state-owned factories, provincial, municipal, and county People's Committees, and Ministry of Peoples Security [MPS, or North Korea's equivalent of a police force] units all have an SSD agent lurking on the premises to keep a watch over Party cadres. 

Because of this, Party cadres behave like mice around a cat when faced with the in-house SSD agent, who, on the other hand, enjoys unchecked authority to routinely hurl threats like I will bury you politically! at the cadres, he concluded. 

*Translated by Natalie Grant

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