North Korean users of foreign messenger applications such as
Kakao Talk, Line, and WeChat will be arrested on the spot on suspicion of
espionage, according to a new order handed down from the authorities. Sources inside the country interpret the move as Kim Jong Un’s aggressive reaction to the capability of Chinese
cellphones to facilitate the import and export of information into the isolated
As recently reported by Daily NK, the North Korean
authorities have ramped up efforts to label Chinese cellphone users as traitors
and pursuing strict punishments against them. To this end, North Korean authorities doubled down on the use of
signal detectors to trace illicit international calls and zero in on the
location of foreign phone users.
However, the messenger apps allow users to circumvent
detection by this equipment, prompting the regime to respond with new
threats specifically targeting users of these communication applications.
“A measure has been enacted that orders the immediate arrest
of ‘traitorous’ residents who use foreign messenger applications. The regime
further threatened that those caught will not be offered clemency under any
condition,” a source in Ryanggang Province told Daily NK on June 2.
“Offenders who are apprehended will be processed according
to the discretion of the arresting agency– i.e. the State Security Department or
the Ministry of People’s Security. Those taken in will be charged with
espionage associating with the enemy and dispatched to a political prison
According to the source, the regime first began showing
interest in foreign messenger apps in May 2014. At the time, residents who
continuously used Chinese cellphones were arrested, and through the course of
the investigation process, the authorities discovered that information was
being sent back and forth through apps such as the South Korean texting service
“At that time, the authorities decided to define such
activity as espionage and handed down an order to strictly punish offenders,”
The crackdown on messenger services therefore strengthened
from that moment on. The South Korean service Line and the Chinese service
WeChat also became targets of surveillance at that point.
“These days, Line and Kakao Talk are explicitly mentioned in
lectures [routinely delivered to residents by the authorities]. That’s how
serious the crackdown has become,” a separate source in Ryanggang Province said.
This, he went on to say, is unprecedented–hitherto, there
had been no mention of foreign cell phone applications at official lectures. Such a proactive measure reveals Kim Jong Un’s acute awareness of the adverse effects foreign information and defections pose to the stability
of the regime, further highlighted by his blustery accusation that South Korea
kidnapped 13 North Korean restaurant workers who recently escaped their posts in
China and fled to seek asylum in the South.