A new law against “reactionary thought” that the North Korean authorities adopted during a recent presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly comprehensively strengthens controls on not only the entry and distribution of outside information such as news and foreign cultural materials, but also the outflow of internal information such as propaganda materials idolizing the regime.

Based on a Daily NK investigation into the law, it defines a wide range of acts as illegal, including: listening to, recording or distributing foreign radio radio broadcasts; importing and distributing “impure” foreign recordings, video content, books or other published materials; and copying or distributing music unapproved by the state.

While it is unclear how exactly the law is organized, the law’s introduction appears to focus on restrictions regarding foreign radio broadcasts. Basically, this seems to suggest that the authorities are very sensitive about radio broadcasts because of their reach to many people in the country. 

The law’s ban on “foreign videos,” which largely refers to content created in South Korea, appears to be a response to the growing frequency in which North Koreans are enjoying South Korean television programs and films following the closure of the Sino-North Korean border.

The law’s ban on “foreign published materials” includes the Bible, which suggests that the country’s suppression of religion will continue. 

Moreover, the law specifies that if several people are caught watching or reading “impure” recordings, video material or books, the “masterminds” will receive a public trial and all others involved will face “legal punishments.” 

The law reportedly states that those who import or distribute video material or books that have not received state approval will face public trials. This suggests that public trials may increase in frequency after the country’s criminal code is amended. In fact, Daily NK understands that revisions to the code, which will set out the specific punishments called for in the new law, will be passed during a presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly at the end of January.

North Korea's latest smartphone, the Pyongyang 2425
North Korea’s latest smartphone, the Pyongyang 2425. Image: Daily NK

The law further includes restrictions on devices that can be used to play all sorts of content, whether it be music or videos. The law reportedly emphasizes that anyone caught using an electronic device that has not undergone an official “technical inspection,” will have their device confiscated without compensation.

Electronic devices refers to TVs, DVD players, computers, and mobile phones that have not been registered with Bureau 27 of the Ministry of State Security. 

Early this year, North Korean authorities handed down an order to “intensify” the management of electronic devices as part of efforts to stop the flow of internal and external information across the border. 

The law also sets out punishments for those who save images, e-books or music unapproved by the state on their mobile phones or those who make illegal copies of materials from a photo studio printer. 

Furthermore, the law subjects those who smuggle or distribute unapproved consumer goods, sundries or electrical appliances in border regions to punishment. 

North Korean authorities have continuously curbed and blocked “industrial goods not approved by the state,” which refers to South Korean goods. This is because they believe North Korean may suffer “delusions” if they use high-quality South Korean products. What is striking about the new law is that it explicitly bans the copying, saving, or distribution of books that glorify the ruling Kim family such as “Immortal History,” “Immortal Guidance” and “Immortal Journey.”

North Korea already bans locally published books from being taken abroad, but the ban on storing files on personal mobile phones is apparently aimed at shutting down even the possibility of people leaking propaganda materials.

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.
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Seulkee Jang is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.