North Korean authorities recently ordered that citizens free of ideological suspicions be excluded from surveillance, Daily NK has  learned.

A source in North Hamgyong Province told Daily NK on Wednesday that the provincial branch of the Ministry of State Security held an emergency meeting earlier this month for officials ranked section chief and above. He said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s orders from Sept. 29 were delivered to the attendees, who then discussed efforts to achieve those orders and issued relevant directives.

According to the source, Kim’s orders from Sept. 29 were as follows.

Firstly, the orders pointed out that the Ministry of State Security was “excessively” surveilling residents along the Sino-North Korean border, and this was harming unity between the ruling party and the people.

The orders also noted repeated incidents of locals being politically disenfranchised after being unfairly tarred as “impure” elements, and this was leading to widening resistance from residents.

The source said the orders concluded by instructing officials to keep the names of locals free of “particular ideological tendencies” off surveillance lists. Instead, officials should formulate “thorough measures” to look after public livelihoods so that “not even a single deviationist emerges.”

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A sentry post on the Sino-North Korean border in Sakju County, North Pyongan Province. / Image: Daily NK

The source said public controls, crackdowns and surveillance of the public by legal, security and law enforcement agencies have been “stifling” since the COVID-19 pandemic began. “Discontent is growing over the pressure to constantly watch what you say and do,” he said.

The source said district offices and inminban (people’s units) recently conveyed to the public the discussions from the meeting. “It seems the authorities are trying this to soothe, at least a bit, the discontent of locals suffering from food shortages due to the protracted coronavirus situation,” he added.

There is speculation that North Korean authorities have now recognized they cannot focus their administrative efforts solely on public surveillance, and have begun efforts to end the practice.

However, excluded from Kim’s recent order were so-called “impure elements” such as the families of defectors, people repatriated to the North and users of Chinese-made mobile phones. Instead, the order reaffirmed existing policy that such individuals should be subject to at least “three levels” and at most “five levels” of surveillance.

In fact, a man in his 30s in Nammun-dong, Hoeryong – identified by his family name of Chong – was arrested on Oct. 12 after making comments regarding food shortages. Chong had been repatriated to North Korea in 2019. He was busted for openly making comments lamenting his current circumstances.

Because he had a record for illegally crossing the border, he was reportedly sentenced to three months in a forced labor brigade over his comments.

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