North Korea is reportedly pressuring smugglers and brokers in the Sino-North Korean border region to turn in foreign-made mobile phones they use to call China and South Korea.

“Recently, Ministry of State Security officials in the border area are telling residents with foreign-made mobile phones to quickly turn them in given there’s a goal to completely eliminate them by the end of December,” a source in Yanggang Province told the Daily NK on Thursday.

According to the source, North Korean authorities have given the Ministry of State Security the task of stopping “illegal activities” on the border by the end of the year. These illegal activities include people using foreign-made mobile phones to secretly communicate with those in China or South Korea to sell “state secrets” or to help transfer money from defectors to relatives inside the country.

The authorities have instructed that the ministry use “inducement” rather than coercion to handle these illegal activities. Accordingly, security officials have reportedly been approaching brokers and smugglers, telling them: “If you have foreign-made mobile phones, quickly turn them over. If you turn them over now, we will forgive all your past crimes. But if you get busted later, you should be prepared to die.”

“In fact, two brokers in Hyesan finally handed over their Chinese-made mobile phones early this month when they were induced to do so by a Ministry of State Security agent who followed them around everyday,” said the source. “One of them had been a broker who transferred money for several years. Unable to give the agent the slip, he’d be surveilled all the time and have to pay bribes, so he handed over his mobile phone saying he couldn’t take it anymore.”

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A view of Hyesan, in North Korea’s Yanggang Province. / Image: Daily NK

Ministry of State Security officials are said to be feigning magnanimity to people who voluntarily turn over their mobile phones, letting them go after forcing them to write an “oath.” The oath says that the individual has reflected on what they have done and will not repeat it. According to the source, everyone must sign the document with a thumbprint.

“I understand that people who worked as professional smugglers and brokers have turned over old, worthless mobile phones as a strategy to escape attention from the Ministry of State Security for the time being,” the source said. 

Not only professional smugglers and brokers but also residents of border areas with foreign-made mobile phones are reportedly handing over their phones voluntarily to the Ministry of State Security. The source noted, however, that this appears to be aimed at temporarily escaping surveillance and pressure from the ministry. 

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

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Kim Yoo Jin is one of Daily NK's freelance journalists. Please direct any questions about his articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.