The North Korean authorities have recently focused on cracking down on “acts of superstition” leading to the execution of a fortune teller in the Chongjin and the arrest of other fortune tellers in Onsong and Hoeryong who are awaiting trial.
“A female fortune teller in her early 20s was executed by firing squad in Chongjin on November 17 and similar punishments were carried out in other parts of the country as well,” said a North Hamgyong Province-based source on December 13.
A separate source in North Hamgyong Province added, “One fortune teller, known as “Huisun,” was sentenced to 18 years hard labor in Onsong, while in Hoeryong, six fortune tellers remain under investigation by local police with rumors that they may also face execution.”
It is unusual for the North Korean state to resort to such extreme punishments, which are far removed from the country’s general legal precedent. Section 256 of the North Korean criminal code states that: “Anyone who engages in superstition-based activities for money or other forms of payment can be sentenced to a maximum of one year in a forced labor camp, and if the person in question has taught others in regards to superstition-based activities or their crimes are of a serious nature, they can be sentenced to a maximum of three year sentence of reform through labor.”
The recent sentences suggest that the North Korean authorities are on the lookout for those with wavering ideology toward the regime. Severe crackdowns were carried out against acts of superstition during the Kim Jong Il era and the oppressive measures have only become more stringent.
An order has also been handed down by Kim Jong Un recently regarding efforts to eradicate acts of superstition. Along with a “Strong Crackdown and Punishment of Acts of Superstition Order” handed down in July, this recent order suggests that the North Korean regime is accelerating efforts to stamp out social disaffection.
The order reportedly calls on the North Korean authorities to exact “harsh” punishment against those who engage in acts of superstition. There are rumors that an order has even been handed down advising that executions by firing squad and forced labor punishments should be “carried out where needed.”
The number of people who have been arrested for acts of superstition has reportedly increased following increasing emphasis by the authorities in lectures and meetings on “prohibited acts of superstition”. The order also states that “even those who participate in acts of superstition will be punished at the same level as those who guide them.”
“There has long been a ban on acts of superstition and Group 109 (a team that cracks down on illegal media content) also investigates acts of superstition, too,” an additional source in North Hamgyong Province reported.
“Last year, a family in Onsong County was able to avoid getting punished by an Anti-Socialist Unit for possessing a piece of paper suggesting that they had their fortunes read by giving the officials three boxes of cigarettes.”
Despite the crackdowns, such acts of superstition have not been eradicated as intended. “I think that everyone has had their fortunes read at least once,” he said, pointing out that “people turn to fortune tellers when they’re under stress or things aren’t working out.”
“The cost for getting your fortune read was 50 North Korean won in the mid-1990s during the Arduous March period. That was the price of one kilogram of rice, but people were so distressed at the time by the mass starvation that they went to fortune tellers regularly,” a North Korean defector from South Hamgyong Province said.
“Two fortune tellers were shot in Tonchon at that time and many were sent to labor camps. The authorities did that to set an example for others.”