In late August, North Korean authorities publicly tried users of illegal foreign-made mobile phones in Hoeryong, North Hamgyong Province.

According to a Daily NK source in the province on Friday, nine local residents were publicly tried in the courtyard in front of Hoeryong’s cultural center at 10 AM on Aug. 27.

The nine had been arrested for either using foreign-made mobile phones to receive remittances from North Korean defectors or for smuggling with China.

Ahead of the public trial, the local branch of the Ministry of State Security sent an order to all organizations within the city to attend the trial. This was to show “what awaits those caught engaging in anti-socialist and non-socialist behavior.”

The public trial of four men and five women took place in front of over 1,000 people who gathered in front of the cultural hall that morning.

The court sentenced three men and four women who had acted as remittance “brokers” while using foreign-made mobile phones to contact defectors living in South Korea or other countries. 

The court described the defendants as people who had already been caught several times by the Ministry of State Security but let go. While condemning them for failing to mend their ways despite the repeated clemency they were given, the court gave them 15 years of forced labor.

Hoeryong White Apricot Jam. Image: DPRK Today
A scene from a street market in Hoeryong. / Image: Daily NK

The court also gave seven years of forced labor to a person who transferred money from North Korean defectors to their families and who had attempted suicide after being caught by the Ministry of State Security.

The individual in question received the money through their daughter, who had illegally crossed the border into China.

The court was particularly critical about how the defendants allegedly “stirred up” public sentiment by using several different foreign-made mobile phones to consume and distribute South Korean newspapers, films or music, or to bring unpermitted foreign videos into the country.

According to the source, the court said the accused had committed “treason against the nation” by going along with “enemy schemes to collapse our nation from the inside,” and that “not even death could wash away their crimes.”

“However, the court also said it had greatly reduced the sentences as the accused had reflected on their crimes and sworn not to commit this sort of treason again if given a chance,” he said.

One of those standing trial was reportedly sentenced to reeducation.

The court explained that the individual had turned himself in to the Ministry of State Security with three Chinese-made mobile phones, and that he had provided five tons of corn and two tons of rice to workers reconstructing the home of Kim Il Sung’s first wife Kim Jong Suk, a historic revolutionary site. 

The court said that “to such a sincerely repentant person, we are giving a chance for rehabilitation.”

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Jong So Yong is one of Daily NK's freelance reporters. Questions about her articles can be directed to