North Korea has recently introduced a comprehensive new law that seeks to eliminate foreign influences of all kinds. Severely punish those caught using foreign films, clothing, or slang. But why?
Yun Miso says he was 11 years old when he first saw a man arrested in a Korean drama.
The entire neighborhood was ordered to be monitored.
“Otherwise, it would be classified as a treason,” she told the BBC from her home in Seoul.
North Korean security guards have informed everyone that the punishment for smuggling illegal videos is the death penalty.
“I still vividly remember the blindfolded man. I can still see his tears dripping. It was traumatic for me. The blindfold was completely soaked with his tears.
“They put him on a stake, tied him up, and then shot him.”
“War without weapons”
Imagine a constant lockdown situation with no internet or social media, and only a few state-owned television channels designed by national leaders to tell you what you want them to hear. This is life in North Korea.
And now, its leader, Kim Jong Un, has tightened the crackdown and introduced a radical new law on what the regime calls “reactive thinking.”
Those arrested in large numbers of media from South Korea, the United States, or Japan are currently facing the death penalty. The prisoners turned to the prisoner-of-war camp for 15 years.
And it’s not just what people see.
Kim recently sent a letter to the state media calling on the country’s Youth League to crack down on youth’s “unpleasant, individualistic and anti-socialist behavior.” He wants to stop foreign words, hairstyles and clothes that he describes as “dangerous poison”.
Daily NK, an online publication in Seoul with a North Korean source, is in a re-education camp when three teenagers cut their hair like K-POP idols and put their trousers above their ankles. I reported that it was sent. The BBC cannot verify this account.
This is all because Kim is in a war without nuclear weapons or missiles.
Analysts say he is trying to stop outside information from reaching the North Korean people as life in North Korea becomes more difficult.
Millions of people are believed to be hungry. Instead of glimpsing the life of Seoul’s brilliant K-drama, one of Asia’s wealthiest cities south of the border, Kim still receives the country’s carefully crafted propaganda. I want to confirm.
The country has been more separated from the outside world than ever since it closed its border last year in response to a pandemic. Significant supply and trade from neighboring China has almost stopped. Some supplies have begun to arrive, but imports are still limited.
This self-imposed isolation is exacerbating the already failing economy, and money is pouring into the administration’s core ambitions. Earlier this year, Kim himself said, “We have to overcome it. He admitted that he was facing the worst situation.
What does the law say?
The Daily NK was the first to get a copy of the law.
“If a worker is arrested, the factory manager may be punished, and if the child has a problem, the parent may also be punished. The North Korean administration encouraged The mutual monitoring system is positively reflected in this law, Lee Sang-young, editor-in-chief, told the BBC.
He states that this is intended to “shatter” the dreams and charms that the younger generation may have about the South.
“That is, the administration concluded that if the cultures of other countries were introduced, resistance could form,” he said.
Choi Jong Hoon, one of the few North Korean defectors who left the country last year, told the BBC, “The more stringent the times, the more stringent the regulations, laws and punishments.”
“Mentally, it may be a free time to watch Korean movies when you are full, but people are dissatisfied when they have a hard time living without food.”
Will it work?
The crackdown so far has only shown how witty people are in distributing and watching foreign films that are normally smuggled across borders from China.
For years, dramas have been distributed on USB sticks, according to Choi, but are now “rock-like”. They can be easily hidden and the passwords are also encrypted.
“If you enter the wrong password three times in a row, USB will delete the content. If the content is very sensitive, you can also set this to happen after one incorrect password entry. I can do it.
Also, USB is often set to be viewed only once on a particular computer and cannot be connected to another device or transferred to another person. You wanted to spread it. But I couldn’t. “
Mi-so remembers how long she spent watching a movie in her neighborhood.
She says she used to rent a car battery and connect it to a generator to power the TV. She remembers watching a Korean drama called “Stairway to Heaven.”
This epic love story, in which a girl fights her stepmother first and then cancer, seems to have been popular in North Korea about 20 years ago.
According to Choi, this was also a time when interest in foreign media began to take off. Thanks to cheap CDs and DVDs from China.
The beginning of the crackdown
But then the Pyongyang administration began to notice. Choi remembers that the National Guard raided the university around 2002 and found more than 20,000 CDs.
“This was just one university. Can you imagine how many universities there were in the country? The government was shocked. This was when they made the punishment more severe,” he said.
Kim Gum-hyuk, who was 16 years old in 2009, was arrested by special forces guards set up to hunt down and arrest those who share illegal videos.
He gave a friend some DVDs of Korean pop music that his father smuggled from China.
He was treated like an adult and marched into a secret room for cross-examination, but guards refused to put him to sleep. He was beaten and kicked repeatedly for four days.
“I was scared,” he told the BBC from his current home in Seoul.
“I thought my world was over. They wanted to know how I got this video and how many people I showed it to. My dad got those DVDs from China. I couldn’t say I came. After all, it was my dad. “I said nothing, just” I don’t know, I don’t know. Let me go. “
Gumhyuk is from an elite family in Pyongyang, and his father was able to bribe guards to release him. Under Kim’s new law, it would be nearly impossible.
At that time, many of those arrested for similar crimes were sent to forced labor camps. However, the rulings increased because this did not prove to be sufficient as a deterrent.
“At first, the sentence was about a year in the internment camp, but it changed to a sentence in the camp for more than three years. Now, when I go to the internment camp, more than 50% of young people see foreign media. I’m there, “says Cho Cho Cho.
“If someone sees an illegal material for two hours, it’s been three years in a forced labor camp. This is a big problem.”
Many sources have heard that some North Korean camps have expanded last year, and Choi believes the strict new legislation is having an impact.
“Watching a movie is a luxury. Before you can think of watching a movie, you must first feed yourself. If even one of your family members is sent to a concentration camp if it is difficult to eat, it will be destroyed. You may be hit hard. “
Why do people still do it?
“I had to watch the drama many times, but I couldn’t beat my curiosity. I wanted to know what was happening in the outside world,” Kumhyuk said.
Gumhyuk changed his life by knowing the truth about his country. He was one of the few privileged North Koreans allowed to study in Beijing, where he discovered the Internet.
“I couldn’t believe it at first [the descriptions of North Korea]I thought Westerners were lying. Wikipedia is lying, how can you believe it? But my mind and my brain were split.
“So I saw a lot of documentaries about North Korea, read a lot of treatises, and realized that they were probably true because what they were saying made sense.
“It was too late after I realized that the transition was happening in my brain. I couldn’t go back anymore.”
Gumhyuk eventually fled to Seoul.
Mi-so is fulfilling her dream as a fashion advisor. The first thing she did in her new homeland was to visit everywhere she saw on the stairs to heaven.
But stories like them are more rare than ever.
Current “shoot-and-kill” orders at tightly controlled borders make it almost impossible to leave the country. And it’s hard not to expect Kim’s new law to have a further chilling effect.
Choi, who had to leave his family in North Korea, believes that watching one or two dramas will not overturn decades of ideological rule. North Korea believes that national propaganda is not true.
“People in North Korea have seeds of dissatisfaction in their hearts, but they don’t understand what their dissatisfaction is directed at,” he said.
“It’s an undirected complaint. I’m thrilled that I can’t understand what I tell them. Someone needs to awaken and enlighten them.”