North Korea observes a mourning period to mark the passing of Kim Il Sung each year from late June until early July. This year, a group of young adults in their 20s were involved in a scuffle in Pyongyang and arrested by local police.
“The group got into a fight at the end of June in the Songyo District of Pyongyang, and now their families face eviction from the city,” a source in Pyongyang told Daily NK.
North Korea severely punishes those who commit crimes during periods designated for the reverence of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il under the country’s harsh lese majeste laws. Residents are told to engage in mourning-related activities, to protect sites (including statues) honoring the leaders, and to maintain social order. During such periods, the authorities take a particularly harsh view of those involved in criminal activities, public disturbances, or the consumption of alcohol.
According to the source, the fight broke out in a two-story restaurant in the Songyo district on June 25, two days after the authorities announced the mourning period. A window in the restaurant was broken during the incident.
The restaurant owner and patrons attempted to stop the fight, but punches were thrown and it was only until local police arrived that the fight stopped. Those involved were taken to a police station and found to be the children of low-level government officials. The families were reprimanded for letting their children run wild.
A separate source in Pyongyang familiar with the incident told Daily NK that “fighting would have gotten them into trouble during normal times, but because it happened during the mourning period they are facing serious punishment.”
Few incidents have occurred during the country’s mourning periods in the past because residents have been aware of the severe consequences. In recent years, however, violence has broken out in increasing numbers during these periods, possibly suggesting that the public is less mindful of the consequences than in the past.
“The current generation doesn’t even know who the Suryong is. So there’s less loyalty toward the regime during mourning periods,” said Seo Jae Pyong, secretary-general of the Association of North Korean Defectors. “The spread of individualism in the country due to marketization has changed how people view the regime.”
Through the state-run Rodong Sinmun, the North Korean authorities emphasized that North Koreans must observe the legacies of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il and diligently participate in mourning-related activities marking the 25th anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s death.