North Korean government task force employs new censorship tactics

Popular media players for watching foreign content in North Korea (left, notel; right, mp4 player
Popular media players for watching foreign content in North Korea (left, notel; right, mp4 player). Image: Daily NK

A government task force dispatched to Sinuiju, North Pyongan Province has been employing unusual rules when confiscating personal computers, regional sources report.

The country’s “anti-socialist” task forces are essentially censorship enforcers organized at a provincial or central party level, tasked with eradicating behavior that may threaten the regime’s socialist foundations and stability.

“During the election period for the Supreme People’s Assembly, anti-socialist task forces searched houses to crackdown on people watching South Korean dramas. They had few reservations in going about their business, confiscating items like computers for no reason and returning them only after bribes were paid,” a source in North Pyongan Province told Daily NK.

“[The anti-socialist group] is even making an issue out of Chinese movies, not to mention banning South Korean movies. Their standard for censorship is that spoken words in movies are permitted but written words are not.”

In other words, dubbed movies are allowed but even for Chinese movies, which are not typically targets for cenroship, if actors are speaking Chinese and there are subtitles, the material will be confiscated.

“Four members of the anti-socialist group came into my house to look for illegal films and they searched and confiscated my son’s computer because they said that they found a film with subtitles,” said the source, adding that during the recent round of crackdowns about ten computers (including laptops and portable media players) were confiscated.

People are puzzled by the group’s recent behavior, with some rhetorically asking, “What is the difference between dubbing foreigner’s words into Korean and subtitling them into Korean? What kind of reason is that?”

Fines are often paid, although the anti-socialist group typically demands large sums of money.

“[Those who got caught] were investigated and eventually had to pay 900-1000 RMB, which is about one-third of the price of a computer, to receive their things back. The judicial organization is using this crackdown as a pretext to make money,” a separate source in North Pyongan Province said.

Without such a strict standard, he asserted, few would be found to be in violation of the rules.

It remains unclear whether the recent crackdowns are arising from corruption at a local level or an order from the higher authorities in order to raise funds. However, many residents feel that the anti-socialist group members are acting for personal gain and believe that the group’s behavior has gone too far.

*Translated by Yongmin Lee

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