Amid the regime’s efforts to block the flow of information into and from the country, North Korean authorities recently held lectures in Yanggang Province emphasizing that people who use Chinese-made mobile phones will face punishment, Daily NK has learned. 

In a phone conversation with Daily NK, a source in Yanggang Province said a recent lecture to members of the Socialist Women’s Union of Korea threatened that users of Chinese-made mobile phones would be unconditionally punished. “Recently, with remittance brokers continuing to get busted in border cities, the labor bureau of the provincial party committee has begun bringing them under control,” he explained, on condition of anonymity. 

According to the source, the lecturer, who mentioned that people had been caught in the act in Pochon and Taehongdan, stressed that “people who are hiding devices [Chinese-made mobile phones] should voluntarily report themselves” and that “everyone should remember that if a national secret appears in even a single utterance, you are allowing [that secret] to leave the country.”

As an area on the border with China, Yanggang Province has long witnessed regular surveillance, crackdowns and arrests of people making phone calls to the outside world.  

According to the source, the lecture also stressed the issue of punishment, saying that those “caught in the act talking on the phone with those in a foreign country” would get “five years of correctional labor.”

When North Korea revised its criminal code in 2015, it added the “crime of illegal international communications” (Article 222), which provided the regulatory basis for punishing people who talk on the phone with those outside the country. Specifically, the law said those who engage in “illegal international communications” can face “up to a year of disciplinary labor” or “up to five years of correctional labor.”

Merchant cell phone
A North Korean merchant using a cell phone at a local market. / Image: Daily NK

Most North Koreans, however, are already experiencing considerable difficulties making phone calls to the outside world. So much so, in fact, that the source said that the Chinese-made mobile phones often used by employees of trade-related companies have become “useless.”

“Massive inspections – and resulting firings and transfers – began at customs houses this autumn, which has meant that smuggling over the border has slowed even further,” said the source. “Cellular traffic has fallen so much that people with Chinese-made devices say they only check [the devices] once a month.”

According to him, phone calls have fallen significantly among those working for trade-related agencies and regular people are facing similar difficulties making phone calls. “Even in these circumstances, the authorities continue to stress that we mustn’t call outsiders,” he added. 

The source further noted that “phone calls with the outside world has fallen drastically, but at the governmental level, they apparently intend to root out all the illegal phone callers they can find.”

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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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.