“Mobile Phone Use in North Korea, Safer at Day than Night”

[imText1]“Let’s talk only during the day,” says Mr. Kim, who arranges meetings (by searching) between people in North Korea and defectors in South Korea or China. Mr. Kim lives in 00 city, North Hamkyong province and he makes “private family reunions” possible through a mobile phone.

Apart from the previous separated families created by the Korean war, the newly emerging separated families due to defections and people who moved to North Korea (those who moved to North Korea from Japan) are creating demands for mobile phone conversations. The people who have their family members inside North Korea find ways to talk to their relatives.

Three Government Offices Work Together to Disclose Mobile Phones Holders

A few weeks ago, Mr. Han, a North Korean defector currently residing in South Korea, talked to his family in North Korea on the mobile phone of Mr. Kim. Mr. Han thought it was better to call at night for his family to lock the house and talk in the corner of a room.

However, Mr. Kim says it is better to call during the day than at night.

He explains the reason why he prefers day for mobile phone calls as, “During the night, the Security Department officers (police) and anti-socialist controlling group, and the National Security Office officials patrol around every corner and check which house is lighted and which house has people talking.”

The following is the conversation of Mr. Han and Mr. Kim.

– Why is it better to call during the day?
“They have mobile phone detectors, so during the night the anti-socialist controlling group sent from the Central government patrols around the town and detects phone calls. Few days ago my neighbor Choi was called to visit the security office and had his mobile phone deprived by them. I had mine deprived too; one last year and two this year.”

– You were not punished ever after you had your phone taken away?
“It is okay as long as there is no evidence that you talked with the people in South Korea. Even when you are taken to the security office, you can say that you didn’t talk with people in South Korea, but in China for business. You give them some money and they release you.”

– Does it not scare you after you get caught?
“It does scare me, but I have to do it to make a living. Even if you are out the entire day selling noodle in the market or selling rice (buy rice from local places and sell in the city markets), it is hard to earn a “bill” (10,000 North Korean won). If you do this kind of “document business” (a broker between the people in the North and China), you can make money staying home. But it is a dangerous business.”

– Do they really have a mobile phone detector? How does it look like?
“I do not know exactly. I heard that Choi was making a phone call at night and was arrested at the spot by the anti-socialist controlling group who was holding an electronic detector. The members of the anti-socialist group walk around carrying a bag sized machine with antennas and headphones (receivers) on their heads at night. It is hard to catch people on the spot because Chinese people are the ones using cellular phones and there are many cases where they arrest wrong people. That is why the security officers and the patrol single out the houses known to have cellular phones in advance and attack them by surprise.”

“Conversations must not be long”

Those doing “document business,” the brokers, tell their clients, “You can only make calls during the day and it must not be long.” The people from South wish to talk to their family members in the North as long as possible for it is hard to reach them frequently. However, long phone conversations can be quite dangerous and batter always runs out first.

Mr. Kim says it is “hard to recharge the batteries because the electricity is not provided during the night.”

”I carry around the batteries with recharger (made in China) and recharge them in the house that receives electricity (house of a cadre) or in a factory. I hide while it is being recharged and secretly fetch them after they are recharged.”

The mobile phones North Korean people use are not South Korean phones, but old style Nokia or Siemens. Used Chinese mobile phones can be bought in 500 Yuan (about $65 USD).

Only Chinese residents allowed to use Mobile Phones

In 2002, mobile phone service was tested and started in Lasun city, and in November, 2003, the service spread to Pyongyang and other major cities and towns. However, after the Ryongchon accident in April 2004, use of mobile phone became prohibited throughout the country.

After the mobile phone service was cut off, even the Chinese people cannot use mobile phones except in the (Sino-Korean) border area.

Chinese people are the ones who spread the use of mobile phones in North Korea. Chinese descendent North Korean residents started to use mobile phones in the mid-1990s for their business with China. By 1997 10% of the entire Chinese population in North Korea, who were mostly located close to the border area including Shinuiju and Ryongchon, used mobile phones and in 1998, 15%, by 2000, over 50% and now, it is known that most of the the Chinese residents in Shinuiju are using mobile phones.

The government of North Korea was quite troubled by Chinese people’s use of cellular phones. That was because information about inside North Korea was taken outside of the country all the time. This is why the government limited the use of mobile phones to only border areas.

However, there were many cases where the Chinese residents handed mobile phones over to the North Koreans. When they make business they let North Koreans use their phones to make “orders” to China and include the cost of making phone calls in the deal.

Such “orders” could be orders for goods for business but also “searching people.” The brokers receive from 500,000won up to 1,000,000 won and sometimes couple million won for making the “meeting” between people possible. However, even such meetings cannot happen if the Chinese owner of the mobile phone does not pay the bill. Therefore, the fee people pay are divided between the brokers and the Chinese owners of the mobile phones.

North Korean people’s complain is ever more increasing recently. They say, “Chinese XX are making money in our country however they want and how come we are not even allowed to make phone calls?” They complain openly.

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