Authorities order removal of “eyesore” iron bars on Pyongyang apartment windows

Pyongyang as seen in August 2018
Pyongyang as seen in August 2018. Image: Daily NK

The removal of iron bars from apartments in Pyongyang has led to a steep rise in burglaries, frustrating the city’s residents. Rumors have spread that the removal was ordered by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Daily NK sources have reported.

“Iron bars on apartment windows in Pyongyang’s Hyungjaesan and Samsok districts were ordered to be removed this past May,” a Pyongyang-based source told Daily NK.

“The Marshal (Kim Jong Un) reportedly said that the apartments look like prisons while traveling through the city recently. An order then came down for their removal. It was obvious that Kim didn’t like them because officials moved so quickly to remove the bars.”

The source also added that attitudes toward the authorities are not positive these days and that the removal of the bars, along with the increase in crime, has led to increasing discontent toward Kim.

Former residents of Pyongyang in South Korea say that similar orders happened frequently in the past. During the Kim Jong Il era, officials suddenly ordered people to remove vinyl sheets from their windows – which were in place to keep out the winter cold – because they “didn’t look nice.”

When the Supreme Leader expresses dislike for something, North Korean officials rapidly move to remedy the situation, even in the absence of an explicit order.

The order to remove all of the iron bars from apartment windows was handed down to Pyongyang residents in May. The removal took place for approximately 40 days until June. The order was handed down by a government agency, but the removal was conducted by Pyongyang residents themselves without any support or equipment provided by the state.

The order was handed down to residents through district party organizations during inminban meetings, with the Ministry of People’s Security (North Korea’s police force) ordering the organizations to inform residents and ensure the removals occurred correctly.

“After the removals were completed, burglaries began to spike. Now there’s just so many cases it’s impossible to count,” said the source. “The iron bars were there originally to prevent crime, but now burglars are having a field day.”

The source added that burglars from other areas of the country have moved to areas near Pyongyang. Homeless children in particular are engaging in more crime than ever before.

Central Pyongyang, however, is not sharing the spike in crime as security is tight due to the central government offices located there.

“Only the apartments on the outskirts of the city are being targeted, but it’s where people with a lot of economic difficulties are living,” a separate source in Pyongyang reported.

The crime spike has led groups of local residents to show up at local police stations to protest and demand the re-installation of the iron bars on their windows. The authorities have failed to present effective ways to mitigate the crime wave.

“The most intense period of drought is happening right now and Pyongyang residents will take part in the ‘drought battle’ until the end of August,” he said. “So there’s a lot of empty apartments. The removal of the iron bars means that burglaries will likely increase for some time yet.”

Several North Korean sources told Daily NK that residents of apartments in North Pyongan and Ryanggang provinces have not been ordered to remove the iron bars from their windows. Pyongyang-based sources confirm that the removal order has only been handed down in the capital and its surrounds.

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