North Korean resident on his mobile phone in a provincial region of the country
FILE PHOTO: A North Korean talking on a phone in an area outside of Pyongyang. (Daily NK)

A man in North Hamgyong Province was recently sent to a political prison camp after being charged with the crime of leaking internal information through a foreign-made mobile phone, Daily NK has learned.

A source in the province told Daily NK on Thursday that the man, who is in his 30s, had been transported from the city of Hoeryong to the prison camp in mid-May.

“He went to the camp three months after being arrested by the Ministry of State Security for using a Chinese mobile phone back in February,” the source said.

The ministry had put the man under surveillance because of his luxurious lifestyle, which contrasted with the widespread suffering from various restrictions imposed by the authorities, including the closure of the country’s borders.

The man was apprehended because he was linked to another individual who had been arrested while trying to deliver money to family members of defectors in the interior of the country in early February.

When ministry officials raided the man’s house, they found a Chinese mobile phone, along with a large amount of foreign currency, including USD 10,000 and RMB 140,000 (around USD 20,867). 

The man’s illegal use of a foreign-made mobile phone was treated as a very serious offense. After confiscating the phone, ministry agents found the Chinese messaging app WeChat installed, along with records of phone calls to South Korea. Four days after his arrest, the man was transferred from a holding cell of the city branch of the ministry to a provincial detention center.

The detention center is considered one level higher than a holding cell and prisoners there face intense interrogation, along with brutal torture.

Under interrogation, the man confessed to transferring funds using a Chinese mobile phone he had bought for that purpose in 2019 and to sending pictures of documents and buildings inside North Korea in exchange for large sums of money since 2021.

After over 100 days of interrogation, the man was incarcerated at a political prison camp for espionage, according to the source.

Meanwhile, the man’s wife, who is in her 20s, was sentenced to one year of hard labor for abetting her husband’s criminal behavior and not turning him in.

The heavy sentences appear to be aimed at encouraging people to be vigilant about reporting criminal behavior and reminding them that anyone can be prosecuted for failing to do so.

“The Ministry of State Security is using every possible means to prevent internal information from being leaked to the outside world,” the source said. “The crackdown on the use of Chinese mobile phones in the border region is getting worse and worse, and most people are trying to avoid attracting attention [from the authorities].”

Translated by David Carruth. Edited by Robert Lauler.

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Lee Chae Un is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. She can be reached at