With North Korean authorities putting the cities of Hyesan and Samjiyon in Yanggang Province under lockdown late last month, local residents are reportedly receiving punishment for leaving their homes.

In a phone conversation with Daily NK on Feb. 9, a source in Yanggang Province said three locals of Hyesan were given disciplinary labor when they left their homes to buy food on Friday. “They got in trouble when they left their homes in violation of the lockdown order handed down late last month,” he said.

“There are absurd cases of locals unable to buy food because of the sudden lockdown order being punished by the legal authorities,” he added. 

According to the source, immediately after the lockdown order, prosecutors from the provincial and city prosecutor’s offices began enforcing the ban on movement. Prosecutors apparently took locals caught in the crackdown to the local district office for lectures, after which they were sent home. Essentially, they did not subject violators to disciplinary labor at first.

However, when violations did not decrease despite the lectures, the authorities fully mobilized provincial and city security personnel to crack down on locals from Friday. According to the source, legal authorities have provided security agents with vehicles, which they are using to immediately take locals caught in the crackdown to labor camps. Locals have had to face “a month of disciplinary labor,” regardless of their reasons for violating the lockdown.

Hyesan, Ryanggang Province in August 2018
Apartments can be seen in Hyesan, Yanggang Province in this August 2018 photo. / Image: Daily NK

“The economic situation wasn’t good even before the lockdown, with locals just holding on day-to-day,” said the source. “Because of this, can they really follow the authorities’ order to remain in their homes for a month?

“Due to shortages of food and kindling, [locals] now must spend the day amid severe cold and hunger,” he added. “If it goes on like this, many locals will suffer in agony during the remaining period of the lockdown.”

Locals in Hyesan and Samjiyon are also reportedly being pressed into daytime and nighttime guard duty in the frigid winter in accordance with an order from the authorities.

According to another source in North Korea, locals must stand at attention as they keep watch at district entrances. The authorities are warning guards that if they are caught moving around or sitting while on watch, they will be severely punished when the lockdown ends. 

The authorities are also stressing that outsiders must not be allowed into local villages during the lockdown. Moreover, they are forcing guards to quickly report even the slightest movement by locals.

“Locals are upset because of the lockdown measure, particularly given that they now face death from starvation rather than the coronavirus,” the source said, adding, “Everyone is anxious about their unclear future.”

Meanwhile, the provincial Emergency Anti-epidemic Command is reportedly teaching locals how to make disinfectant from salt.

“Unable to come up with substantive, tangible measures, they simply issued an absurd order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by boiling salt [to make disinfectant],” said the source. “You have to ask if orders like this are really measures [aimed at helping] the people.”

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