Farmer facing six months in labor camp for theft

A tractor on a farm in North Korea
A tractor on a farm in North Korea. / Image: Todd Mecklem, Creative Commons, Flickr

A farmer in Paekam County, Ryanggang Province, has been sentenced to six months of forced labor after stealing unripened potatoes and barley, Daily NK learned from multiple sources in North Korea on Monday. 

The stealing of corn, barley and potatoes by farmers without enough food to eat is becoming an increasing problem, one of the sources based in Ryanggang Province added.

“The man had nothing to eat, so he went into a farm to steal barley and potatoes. A guard at the farm saw him and followed him home,” the source said. “The man was investigated for a month before receiving a six month sentence in a forced labor camp in early September.” 

The investigation by local authorities determined that the farmer had cooked and eaten the barley he had stolen.

Daily NK has long reported on the rising theft of corn and other grains from collective farms before the start of the harvest season, and has shed light on recent thefts perpetrated by both farmers and soldiers.

Following a rise in theft of unripened crops in July, Ryanggang Province’s Farm Management Committee delivered a lecture to emphasize the illegality of stealing crops and ordered farm managers to strengthen prevention efforts. 

Ryanggang Province’s Farming Management Committee has continued to warn farmers from July of this year that the theft of even a handful of potatoes before the harvest season is equivalent to stealing “a straw bag” of potatoes, another source in Ryanggang Province said. 

Despite warnings by the local authorities, farmers who have no food to eat have continued to steal what they can. Exasperated, the committee has put together a security force to combat the thefts. 

The arrest of the farmer comes on the heels of these intensified efforts to identify and punish thieves. A member of a “Red Guard” unit at the farm witnessed the man stealing the potatoes and followed him home. 

“After the man was caught, the farm’s management decided that they had had enough of all the thefts and called in the farmers to the management committee office to berate them,” the source told Daily NK. “A month later, the farmer in question was punished and sentenced to six months of forced labor.”

The source added that the authorities decided to make an example out of him because most farmers and other people living near the farm who have stolen crops have not been caught and punished.  

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