NK cracks down on Chinese mobile phone users to prevent defections

The North Korean authorities have ordered the State Security Department to “roundup” Chinese mobile
phone users in the border areas to prevent mass defection. As a result,
security agents are teaming up with signal detection units in North Hamgyong
Province in a joint arrest operation.

“An order to apprehend every last user of Chinese
mobile phones in the border region was issued in early October. Following this,
in Hoeryong City, signal detection experts from Chongjin City and Musan County
as well as personnel from the provincial security agency’s Chemical Processing
Bureau and Transmission Maintenance Bureau were mobilized to track down and
arrest users,” a source in North Hamgyong Province reported to Daily NK on
October 11.

“The State Security Department [SSD] deployed 10 operational
units comprised of 3 agents each who work on 24-hour shifts with their own
vehicles (equipped with tracking devices). Young
agents in their 20s and 30s swiftly raid the locations right after an accurate
location of the caller is identified using the mobile signal trackers.”

Multiple sources in North Hamgyong Province corroborated this information.

These measures have likely been put in place to prevent mass
defection attempts after the border guard posts were compromised by flooding.
Defections are often organized by a phone call to brokers on the Chinese side
of the border.

North Korean security agents are known to be following
through with actual arrests in many cases instead of performing mere
surveillance. They are seeking to instill fear by making ‘examples’ of those
who make phone calls.

“Agents armed with advanced equipment are even
patrolling the corners of neighboring farm villages as well as the city, and
arrested five phone users in the area on the first day of operations,” the
source said. “Residents are terrified saying, ‘Those guys are truly scary.'”

She explained that the atmosphere became even more intense as the
authorities announced to the SSD that each agent will
be evaluated on their arrest performance. In fact, some residents are so scared that they are burying their mobile phones
tightly wrapped in plastic in the ground or burning them in a furnace.

Kim Jong Un has issued instructions in the past to punish
users of Chinese-made mobile phones for treason, in order to prevent residents
from defecting. However, crackdowns on these actions have not had the desired
effect in the past, as leniency was frequently given in exchange for bribes.

The source noted that state security agents from other
regions have been dispatched this time to prevent such corruption. The
intention is to establish a surveillance system between the security agents on
each other, and possibly punish those who do not perform well in the number of
arrests.

“The dispatched agents have been given specific
warnings ‘not to be blinded by bribery’ in advance,” the source added.
“If the current pace of surveillance and arrest continues, more than 90
percent of Chinese mobile phone users are expected to disappear.”

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