North Korean anti-socialist task force groups stage end-of-year crackdown

North Korean residents head to sell goods at an unofficial “grasshopper” market in village on the route to Pyongyang. Image: Chinese blogger with the following ID: 龙五*狼之吻

Some North Korean residents are reportedly complaining about harsh crackdowns led by anti-socialist task force groups (dispatched by the government) on illegal transactions in Hyesan and areas of Ryanggang Province as the end of the year approaches.

“The anti-socialist task force groups are raiding markets in Hyesan without warning and checking whether merchants are selling prohibited imported items and medicines,” a Ryanggang Province-based source told Daily NK on November 8.

“The taskforce has confiscated medicines, claiming that they were either smuggled into China or were illicit drugs,” the source added. “Merchants who fell victim to the raids banded together and protested to the officials saying things like, “Ordinary people use these medicines to treat themselves, so why are you taking them?” But it was to no avail.”

One merchant whose entire stock of medicine was confiscated had someone he knew protest to the authorities on his behalf, but there was no outcome. Ultimately, he was able to get some of his stock back after bribing the officials with money and cigarettes.

During every quarter in the past year, the North Korean authorities have deployed such anti-socialist groups to crack down on activities deemed “anti-socialist” as part of wider efforts to “correct the people’s moral spirit.” This recent crackdown has focused on the markets as opposed to past crackdowns focusing on illegal border crossings or the use of mobile phones.

The groups also headed out to county farms and posted flyers claiming that packaged Chinese-made food products sold at various small food stores had not passed hygiene inspections. These “tainted” products were then confiscated. The groups also cracked down on those selling products door-to-door and at their homes, declaring that they conducted business without paying the market “stall tax.”

“The groups conducting the crackdowns, however, slink away if they receive bribes of money or cigarettes,” said a source in North Hamgyong Province.

“People are complaining that the sudden activation of the groups is just aimed at making money.”

The groups were ostensibly acting on the orders of the North Korean authorities, but some have suggested that they are just aiming to get extra money for personal use.

The recent developments are bringing back memories of the police suddenly launching a crackdown on drivers not wearing seatbelts at the end of last year in order to make their yearly quotas for fines, a separate source in Ryanggang Province reported.

“In order for its members to pay for the cement they needed to obtain, the anti-socialist task force in Hyesan arrested locals who had smuggled things from China or had used Chinese cell phones. They got them to pay a penalty, and then released them,” he said.

“In other words, the crackdowns were just to get the money they needed to complete their own work.”