North Korean authorities are reportedly trying to persuade violators of COVID-19 guidelines into turning themselves in.

This new strategy starkly contrasts with the fact that the authorities were referring to violators of COVID-19 protocols as “human trash” and treating them as serious enemies of the state’s battle against the pandemic as recently as last month. North Korean authorities appear to have started using conciliatory measures to control behavior on the part of their citizens after the effectiveness of punitive methods hit its limit.

Daily NK recently obtained lecture materials related to the matter entitled “All people should have a high sense of civility and actively confess [their violations of COVID-19 regulations].”

In the materials, the authorities emphasized that “Violators of COVID-19 guidelines and their families should turn themselves in” and that “Those who illegally crossed the border, smuggled, and traded should turn themselves in and confess [their crimes], no matter how small.

“If you turn yourself in while [the authorities] are providing this opportunity, you will be forgiven,” the materials continued, adding, “However, [if you do not turn yourself in and are caught], you will be punished by the Party to the full extent of the law for the crime of hindering anti-COVID measures put in place to protect the well-being of the country and its people.”

North Korean authorities had previously ruthlessly criticized violators of anti-disease guidelines as “human garbage” and “ingrates” that deserve punishment without mercy. However, within the past month, it appears that the authorities sharply toned down their approach.

In general, when the North Korean authorities strengthen punishments and crackdowns on specific crimes, those crimes temporarily decrease. However, some have pointed out that the preventative effects of this approach are limited because people would simply adjust their behavior to avoid crackdowns from the authorities. 

For this reason, the authorities appear to be using a “carrot-and-stick” approach to coerce COVID-19 guideline violators to confess their crimes.

This approach is evident in the approach North Korean authorities are taking toward people who have illegal materials in their possession.

A page from materials recently obtained by Daily NK. / Image: Daily NK

Daily NK published an article last month that described attempts by North Korean authorities to persuade people who own illegal materials to turn themselves in. The authorities promised that those who confessed to local security officials would be forgiven.

In January, the authorities had warned people that they would strongly punish anyone found to possess, disseminate, or abet the distribution of “impure propaganda materials.” 

The authorities have also actively encouraged family members, relatives, and acquaintances of pandemic guideline violators to report the offenders to local officials. Security officials have also used this strategy to coax owners of illegal propaganda materials to turn themselves in.

“You should come to the relevant authorities] and report offenses including violation of anti-disease guidelines or the border blockade, smuggling, and illegal trade up until this point – not just for yourself, but for anyone you know, including your relatives and fellow inminban members,” the lecture materials read, using a term referring to “people’s units,” North Korea’s lowest administrative organizations. 

“You should help those who have committed crimes to take this opportunity to confess. Remember, if you take a hands-off approach and wait for the violators to surrender themselves like someone aimlessly staring across a river, you are heading down a dangerous road of forgetting your responsibility as a citizen.”

At the same time, the authorities are also emphasizing the role of guideline violators in exacerbating people’s suffering by blaming them for citywide lockdowns. 

“The reason why cities and counties in regions near the border had to go into lockdown is mainly because of those who failed to follow last year’s border control measures to fill their own pockets and then took too long to realize their sins and confess,” the materials claimed. “If they had turned themselves on time, there would not have been another lockdown.”

North Korean authorities recently enforced lockdowns in border cities due to reports of smuggling and border-crossings. Sakju, Hyesan, Samjiyon, and a few other cities are reportedly among those that went under lockdown. Once a city is locked down, food becomes scarce, and residents are left to suffer under extreme living conditions.

“It isn’t too late. Anyone who committed violations up until this point should turn themselves in without delay,” the materials said. “If you don’t, you will eventually be caught. This will not only cause massive hardship for you and your family but will also harm economic development and quality of life of your entire county, city, and province.”

*Translated by S & J

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Mun Dong Hui is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about his articles to