North Korea crackdown broadens on international calls

Residents wait to see detained family members at a Ministry of State Security office in a border region of North Korea
Residents wait to see detained family members at a Ministry of State Security office in a border region of North Korea. Image: Daily NK

North Korea’s security services are cracking down on international calls in the Sino-North Korean border region. It appears that most of the activity, however, is aimed at extracting money from ordinary North Koreans, Daily NK has learned.

North Korean Ministry of State Security (MSS) agents have long used mobile phone radio locators to identify suspected homes for raids and punish international callers. Recently, however, agents are diversifying their approaches and trying to catch more international callers by pretending to be ordinary people and conducting stakeouts.

“Agents who catch international callers in the act demand bribes to secure their release from custody,” a source in Ryanggang Province told Daily NK, adding that the authorities have also arrested smugglers to demand information on international callers.

“A woman living in Kangan-dong, Hyesan, was recently arrested by the MSS but didn’t know why.”

She was arrested by three agents after returning home from work at the local market and was later interrogated about a call she had made to South Korea four years ago.

“She was arrested because of a call she made between a family in North Korea and a defector,” said the source. “She had forgotten about it because it was so long ago. Ultimately she paid a bribe of 3,000 yuan to the agents and was released.”

The source also added that MSS agents are using informants arrested for illicit drug transactions, smuggling, and other economic crimes to identify people who have made international calls to South Korea or China.

The agents know that international callers generally have more cash on hand.

“People are getting arrested not just for the international calls they’ve made recently, but also those made long ago, so a lot of people will likely be rounded up,” said a separate source in Ryanggang Province. “A lot of people who have been arrested by the MSS are now trying to scrape up money [so they can pay bribes].”

“These days, people caught helping defectors need to pay bribes of 10,000 Chinese yuan or more, so some have to sell their houses just to get the money.”

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