North Korea offering cash rewards to informants in the border region

Camera surveillance equipment on the Sino-North Korea border
Camera surveillance equipment on the Sino-North Korea border. Image: Daily NK

North Korean officials are delivering lectures to inform residents of their eligibility for cash rewards if they report those who have crossed the border into China illegally, North Korean sources recently told Daily NK.

The lectures contain information about real cases of arrests made by the authorities, who are encouraging people in the region to report any type of “suspicious activity.”

“Officials from the municipal, county and ri (village) offices of the Ryanggang Province Ministry of State Security (MSS) are telling people that the central government wants them to report anyone they think is suspicious or is acting strangely,” a Ryanggang Province-based source told Daily NK.

“The officials have openly told people that if the reports they provide lead to an arrest, the state will give them a reward of 100,000 to 200,000 KPW.”

The authorities are using the monetary rewards to encourage local residents to monitor each other’s activities on top of the already heavy surveillance the state conducts in the region. The surveillance infrastructure currently in place includes cameras, the wiretapping of phones, and the deployment of various “inspection teams.” This menagerie of mechanisms to control people in the border region is all aimed at preventing defections and the leakage of information to the outside world.

“The officials spoke about a woman from Ryanggang Province who shared information with her older sister who had defected. Security agents watched her for over a year before she was arrested,” the source said. “They made sure to mention that the person who reported the woman was awarded five liters of gasoline and 100,000 won in cash.”

The authorities are well aware that ordinary people do not normally trust them and the emphasis on the informant receiving a payment is likely aimed at circumventing this distrust.

Despite the efforts, however, most North Koreans who participated in the classes remain unconvinced.

“To a normal person here, 200,000 KPW is a lot of money. It can buy 40 kilograms of rice at a local market. That being said, people weren’t impressed by what the officials said during the lectures. Some questioned whether even that amount of money was worth turning someone else in,” a separate source in Ryanggang Province reported.

“People generally feel sorry for both those who are caught by the authorities and those who work as informants. The authorities generally have some leverage over informants and people know that’s why they work for the state.”

The source explained that many informants have a difficult time because they are blackmailed into providing information to the authorities.

The renewed efforts on cracking down on illegal activities in the border region through an emphasis on monetary payments ironically reflect rewards offered by the US government for reporting sanctions violations by North Korea.

Screengrab from Rewards for Justice website
Screengrab from Rewards for Justice website. Image: Rewards for Justice

Recently, the US State Department announced on its Rewards for Justice (RFJ) website that the US government would provide up to five million USD for tips on violations of North Korea sanctions.

According to its website, the RFJ supports “international efforts to disrupt North Korea’s illicit activities…[and] offers rewards of up to $5 million for information that leads to the disruption of financial mechanisms of persons engaged in certain activities that support North Korea, including money laundering, sanctions evasion, cyber-crime, and WMD proliferation.”

North Korean officials may have decided to implement a monetary awards system to stem the flow of information across the Sino-North Korean border after learning about the new RFJ rewards system.