North Korean authorities ratchet up efforts to block international calling

Guard post on Sino-North Korea border
Guard post on Sino-North Korea border. Image: Daily NK

North Korea’s Ministry of State Security (MSS) is tightening control over international calls in the Sino-North Korea border region as part of increasing efforts by the authorities to prevent “internal information” from seeping out of the country, Daily NK sources have reported.

Multiple sources in Ryanggang Province reported that MSS officials in the border region have designated several “zones” to monitor international calls with surveillance equipment. MSS officials in the region are aiming to identify and arrest international callers within one to five minutes of calls being made, sources say.

Officials have also announced specific fines that international callers must pay if they are caught. Callers to China have to pay around 5,000 Chinese yuan while callers to South Korea have to pay up to 10,000 yuan.

Those who are unable to pay have their mobile phones confiscated and face harsh interrogation at MSS offices.

International callers caught in the act by MSS officials face varying levels of punishment depending on how much they can afford. If the families of those caught end up paying the bribes, they may escape with a light slap on the wrist while those who can’t pay are given sentences of forced labor or time in a re-education camp.

“There are a lot of people who have been caught making international calls in Hyesan, so the MSS is making a lot of money from the fines,” one of the Ryanggang Province-based sources told Daily NK.

“An MSS official I spoke to said that his senior officers ordered him to buy more powerful electronic surveillance equipment with the revenue generated from the fines.”

There have been several recent cases where North Koreans have been arrested for making contact with the outside world. The authorities appear to be focusing their surveillance efforts on those who are communicating with family members living abroad.

Daily NK sources reported recently that in Pochon County, Ryanggang Province, a man in his 30s was arrested by the MSS for communicating frequently with family members in South Korea. Soon after, another man who had been in frequent contact with a relative in China and was acting as a broker (transferring money for a living) was arrested by the MSS in the same county.

The authorities have also ordered local MSS offices in the border region to severely curtail the leakage of any information from the country, suggesting that government officials are concerned about information leaks from within the MSS as well.

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