Crackdown escalates on foreign information and contact with outside world

Kang Mi Jin  |  2018-04-03 11:33
Article 185 of the North Korean Constitution states, Those who listen to broadcasts of the enemy, or who collect, store, or distribute published materials made by the enemy, but do not have anti-state goals, shall be subject to a punishment of one year or less in a labor camp. In the case of future infractions or collecting, storing, or distributing large quantities of the material, they shall be subject to five years or less of punishment in a labor camp. In particularly severe cases, the penalty shall be ten years of labor.  

The North Korean regime has moved to strengthen punishments and increase crackdowns on the consumption of foreign media, including through a constitutional revision in 2015. The 2012 version of the constitution stipulated a maximum penalty of five years, but this was raised to ten years in the 2015 revision. 

Freedom of expression is covered in Article 19 of the United Nations Human Rights Committees International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees the freedom to pursue and consume information. In addition, Article 18 guarantees Freedom of Thought, Conscience or Religion. Both of these rights are being infringed upon by the North Korean authorities, according to the findings of the United Nations Commission of Inquiry (COI) report on the state of human rights in North Korea published in 2014.  

North Korean authorities ramp up the propaganda and outlaw the consumption of foreign information 

Daily NK recently conducted a series of interviews with inside sources all over North Korea on the topic of access to outside information. The consensus expressed by the sources is that all contact and consumption of foreign information is considered illegal. 

Kim Jong Un has attempted to establish an information blockade to prevent the North Korean people from knowing about the outside world. In the place of foreign information, the authorities trumpet their propaganda.

Some people in Pyongyang who live and work in places that accommodate foreign visitors do get some information from the outside world, said a source from Pyongyang during a telephone call with Daily NK on March 28. However, these employees are forbidden by workplace regulations from discussing the content of their telephone conversations to anyone else.

The legal agencies have emphasized multiple times that any telephone contact with foreigners in considered illegal, a North Hamgyong Province-based source said on March 22. 

Particular pressure against contacting religious groups and individuals

A significant amount of pressure is being placed on residents who have experience abroad, such as those who receive visas to visit relatives in China, and foreign exchange students. 

A resident from Pyongyang with experience traveling to China on such a visa told Daily NK, Private travelers are pressured by a section of foreign affairs and the Ministry of State Security, who warn, We are able to confirm and verify any actions that you take in China by contacting locals, so be prudent. They also say, Forget what you see and hear while you are there. 

The North Korean authorities have issued particularly strong threats warning such residents not to contact religious persons while abroad. Asked about the reason for this, the North Hamgyong source said, Those who contact the churches learn that propaganda from the Party [Korean Workers Party] is all lies.   

In relation to this, a source from Ryanggang Province told Daily NK on March 21, Residents who have been repatriated back to North Korea after spending time abroad have told North Korean residents things that are spreading through the population, including: The Party and the administrative agencies have been modeled after religious regulations, and they clamp down on churches because, If you believe in the church, you wont believe in Kim Jong Un. 

Authorities fail to clamp down on foreign calls and smuggling

Despite the persistent crackdowns by the authorities, the yearning for information amongst residents continues unabated. Recently, trading companies have been cooperating with legal agencies to engage in smuggling operations, and this has had the unintended result of helping to stimulate the introduction and distribution of foreign information into the country.    
A separate source in Ryanggang Province source said, If I had to guess how many families in the border region have a Chinese cell phone, Id say it is one in seven. Some people get their international news through traders in the marketplace, but most of it spreads through the smugglers. 

The residents know that the penalty for contacting the outside world is extremely severe, so they strive to protect one another," added an additional source in North Hamgyong Province.

"But considering the extent to which the authorities are involved in these networks themselves, its impossible to eradicate them completely.  
 
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