A middle school student was recently sentenced to 14 years of forced labor for watching just five minutes of a South Korean film.

The heavy sentence, which has sparked controversy in the country, comes as North Korea’s government continues to emphasize the need to promote “ideological education” among young people. 

A source in Yanggang Province told Daily NK on Tuesday that on Nov. 7, a 14-year-old middle school student in Hyesan — identified only by his middle name of Han — was arrested after watching the South Korean film “The Man from Nowhere.” He said the student was sentenced to 14 years of forced labor, despite being busted just five minutes into the film.

According to explanatory material for North Korea’s law against “reactionary” thought and culture obtained by Daily NK, Article 27 calls for anywhere from five to 15 years of forced labor for individuals caught watching, listening to or storing South Korean films, recordings, edited material, books, songs, drawings or photos.

The law does not explicitly call for punishing teenagers, but Han’s harsh sentence suggests that the law is being applied in full to minors as well. The long sentence also appears aimed at sending a message; namely, teens will get no passes on account of their youth.

Also noteworthy is that Han received such a heavy sentence despite watching just five minutes of the film. North Korean authorities — aware that South Korean films and TV programs are quite popular among North Korean youth — may be trying to generate a climate of fear by applying the law to the letter. 

“The Man from Nowhere” movie poster / Image: Movie poster capture

In September, the Supreme People’s Assembly adopted a law to strengthen youth education, calling for bolstered ideological education. Since then, North Korean media outlets have been engaged in a propaganda effort calling for an intensive struggle against anti-socialist and non-socialist behavior.

The student’s parents could also face punishment as they would be “guilty by association.”

In fact, articles 34 to 38 of the September education law calls for fines of KPW 100,000 to 200,000 if “irresponsible” educational efforts result in young people committing crimes related to “reactionary thought and culture.”

However, rather than simply paying a fine, offenders could instead be exiled or dragged off to a political prison.

In fact, a teenage male in Sinuiju, North Pyongan Province, was exiled with his parents to a rural region in February after he got caught watching porn at home.

Since last year, North Korean authorities have opened three new political prison camps in Sungho-ri and Pyongsan County in North Hwanghae Province and Pihyon County in North Pyongan Province. People imprisoned in these new camps have been found guilty of violating the law against “reactionary” thought and culture, including those who watched foreign TV programs or films, or who used foreign-made cell phones. Some have even been imprisoned along with their families. 

The source said that recently, the “unified command on non-socialist and anti-socialist behavior” has been busier than ever. He added that with Han, the middle school student, receiving such a heavy sentence, the authorities will likely come down hard on his parents, too, believing his “bloodline” to be a problem.

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.
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