North Korean government task force ramps up efforts to root out South Korean media content

Portable "notel" media player popular in North Korea
Portable “notel” media player popular in North Korea. Image: Daily NK

North Korean authorities are focusing all of their efforts on ensuring people do not watch South Korean dramas or movies to the extent that sources in North Korea say ordinary North Koreans invite great dangers on themselves if they do so.

“Two men in their 20s who live in Yonpung-dong, Hyesan, were watching a South Korean drama during the daytime on their computer when Group 109 agents raided their home,” a Ryanggang Province-based source told Daily NK.

“The men removed the memory stick from the computer and stashed it somewhere when they heard knocking on the door, but the Group 109 agents found the stick and arrested them on the spot. After discovering that the memory stick contained South Korean movies, dramas, and music, the agents took the two men to a local police station and interrogated them.”

Group 109 is a joint task force between local police agencies and the Ministry of State Security (MSS) aimed at suppressing the viewing and distribution of foreign movies on compact discs and flash drives. The group has recently planted agents and even created fabricated reports to catch what it deems “criminals.”

North Korean distributors of CDs or USBs with South Korean dramas can face execution. Viewers of such content generally take part in a public trial and are sent to correctional facilities. Minors are sent to “enlightenment centers” for up to six months to one year for ideological re-training.

“Relatives of the two men arrested by Group 109 sold their cell phones and prepared money to bail them out but money alone is unlikely to secure their release from jail,” a separate source in Ryanggang Province added. In other words, the two men will face punishment regardless of their family’s attempts to bribe officials for leniency.

“Crackdowns on viewing or distributing South Korean dramas are nonstop these days,” she said. “Group 109 agents are actively conducting raids but then take the contraband content they’ve confiscated back home and even give it to their kids.”

North Korea has strengthened its crackdowns on the viewership and distribution of South Korean content, but many North Korea observers say that government officials fail to uniformly follow their own rules.

This means that the roots of the problem continue to be unresolved. North Korean security agencies, in other words, are arresting ordinary North Koreans to make it look like they are doing a good job ferreting out crime, yet are secretly enjoying South Korean dramas and movies on their own time.

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