Wonsan park north korean police
A group of North Korean security officers are seen at a park in Wonsan, Kangwon Province. / Image: Daily NK

Ministry of People’s Security (MPS) officers have doubled down on efforts to extract bribes from ordinary North Koreans as the “Day of Security” (Nov. 19) approaches, Daily NK sources reported on Nov. 13. 

The Day of Security is aimed at increasing people’s awareness of law-enforcement issues and MPS officials take part in events and are given rewards to encourage their loyalty toward the regime. The overzealous moves by MPS officers to collect funds to provide these festivities, however, has antagonized many North Koreans, sources reported. 

“The crackdowns have intensified since the start of November, in the run up to the Day of Security,” a Ryanggang Province-based source told Daily NK. “MPS officers have launched investigations and crackdowns ahead of the special day.”  

North Koreans have long been accustomed to MPS officers conducting crackdowns at the end of the year. The bribes demanded by the officials this year, however, has increased, Daily NK sources said. 

“MPS officers will check in on people’s homes every few days at the slightest provocation and under the pretext of inspecting their living quarters, ferreting out fugitives and more,” one of the sources said. “If you are caught drinking alcohol or gambling with cards, a single bottle of alcohol or a case of cigarettes won’t get you off the hook.” 

One female seller of fuel based in Hyesan’s Songbong District was interrogated out of the blue by an MPS officer about the source of her fuel.

There are few other ways to obtain fuel in North Korea other than by smuggling it from abroad. Knowing this, the officer knew he could easily pressure the woman to pay a bribe in return for turning a blind eye to her activities. 

Ultimately, the officer brought the woman into the local station for questioning, and eventually released her after she paid a bribe of RMB 1500 (equivalent to about KRW 250,000).

“In the past, a case of Craven A cigarettes or a bottle or two of a high-quality liquor would have been enough, but now they [MPS officers] demand very large sums,” one of the sources said. 

“For years we have been able to sell things fairly free of restrictions, and so feeding our families has been relatively simple. But that’s probably why the bribes have gotten more expensive,” the source continued. “Just when we think we’ll get a break, they swarm all over us to take what we have.” 

The source concluded: “With the Day of Security coming up on Nov. 19, and with all of the local MPS officers set to shake down ordinary people, nobody will be able to avoid paying a bribe.”

*Translated by Violet Kim

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@gmail.com.

Kang Mi Jin
Kang Mi Jin is a North Korean defector turned journalist who fled North Korea in 2009. She has a degree in economics and writes largely on marketization and economy-related issues for Daily NK. Questions about her articles can be directed to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.