Cadres trade on heightened surveillance

Kim Chae Hwan  |  2016-06-22 15:37
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In the midst of recent reports that Kim Jong Un has ordered users of Chinese-made mobile phones to be labeled as traitors and punished accordingly, the North Korean authorities have been stepping up public crackdowns. However, while the state is increasing its surveillance of the population in light of the "200-Day Battle," Party cadres are using the opportunity to solicit bribes, Daily NK has learned. 

With the start of the 200-Day Battle, agents from both the Ministry of Peoples Security and the State Security Department are restricting the movements of itinerant merchants during the day and cracking down on mobile phone usage during the night, a source from North Hamgyong Province told Daily NK in a telephone conversation. But these agents are openly requesting bribes in exchange for turning a blind eye to whatever illicit activities they discover. 

The agents are carefully analyzing patterns of illegal activity during these crackdown periods because its a good way for them to make money for themselves, the source explained. People who have no connections, no money, and no power end up being pawns for these agents to fill their own pockets. 

The abuse of power by these agents is said to flow from higher ranking cadres. Although they quote official orders to "completely uproot espionage," such slogans are immediately followed by indirect requests for bribes via suggestions of "a birthday or special anniversary" coming up. 

State security agents are said to blackmail residents systematically and with individual quotas in mind. After receiving such payments, cadres use the money to offer payments that flow upward in the leadership hierarchy, and in this way the crackdowns ultimately benefit the regime. Some agents have openly stated they wish there were more Chinese mobile phone users to apprehend, the source said. 

What makes the situation even more trying for residents is the fact that agents willingly accept bribes and offer preferential treatment in return, but also report on those same people when results are demanded from their superiors. 

Some of the agents will share information about when other agents will be operating, what time theyll be using signal detectors, and other such information in exchange for bribes, a source in Ryanggang Province explained. "But as soon as they hear surveillance will be taking place from central [and therefore senior] bodies, they turn on the people and report them, sometimes even for alleged offences they have not even committed.

Residents have likened the situation to a battle for survival, and note that the immense risk in placing illegal phone calls means it can only be justified if it directly ties in with their livelihoods.

*Translated by Phillip Kim and Jiyeon Lee
*Edited by Lee Farrand

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