North Korea targets specific SIM cards in crackdown

The North Korean regime is intensifying its crackdown on certain Koryo Link SIM Cards, some of which provide international roaming services, as well as the use of Chinese mobile phones in the border areas. The measures appear targeted at stopping information leaks. 
“Koryolink phone numbers beginning with 191 have been banned in the border regions because they provide international roaming services. The measure is to prevent residents from making calls to foreign countries, including China and South Korea,” a source in Pyongyang recently told Daily NK.
Not all 191 numbers provide roaming services, but the regime has banned the entire 191 connection in border regions because Koryo Link previously sold SIM Cards with roaming services in the early 2010s (targeting foreigners), and some of these are still in operation.
The developments indicate that the regime, which is sensitive to information leaking into and out of the country, is under significant pressure. 
However, the strengthening crackdowns are reportedly having little effect, as there remains a soaring demand for 191 Koryo Link SIM cards on the black market.
“Even when the crackdowns intensify, there are numerous ways to avoid them. Residents carry more than two SIM cards to prepare for inspections, or pay bribes to the Ministry of State Security in advance to avoid punishment,” a source in North Hamgyong Province explained.
In addition, the regime’s inconsistent policies make it difficult for local security offices to enforce orders. The North Korean authorities permit the use of 191 Koryo Link SIM cards by Pyongyang residents, boosting circulation amongst the population.
“In Pyongyang, those trading with China need constant communication, so the use of 191 Koryo Link SIM cards is essential. The authorities have banned provincial residents from purchasing the SIM card in Pyongyang, but they’re unable to block illegal transactions,” said the North Hamgyong Province-based source.
A source in Ryanggang Province added,  “The authorities are releasing a new line of smartphones, including the brands Pyongyang, Arirang, and Jindallae on the market, making it more difficult to control the trade in SIM cards. The fact that an increasing number of younger people want to own smartphones just to view external information is also causing trouble for the authorities.”
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