Public rally shames distributors of illegal foreign media in North Korea

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

A rare public rally held to shame those accused of watching or distributing illegal videos was held in Hyesan on February 3, North Korean sources in Ryanggang Province report.

The rally was attended by members of the Korean Socialist Women’s Alliance and the Korean Workers’ Alliance. Most adults in Hyesan (except farmers) attended the rally, with local authorities ordering all of them to watch the proceedings.

“The public rally was held on February 3 in front of the Kim Jong Suk Arts Theater,” said a Ryanggang Province-based source on February 12. “Those accused of watching the illegal videos totaled 17 people, including men and women in their 40s, university students in their 20s, and even a 14-year-old middle school student.”

“An official from the local prosecutors department announced that they had distributed ‘impure’ video content that sullied the Republic’s good manners and customs,” she continued.

“Impure video content” often refers to South Korean dramas and Hollywood movies. North Korea considers viewing such content to be an anti-socialist act. That the authorities also emphasized the accused having “distributed” the content suggests they are in more trouble for having spread the content than viewing it.

North Korea has long punished distributors of video content severely. The authorities are generally more lenient on first time offenders in exchange for bribes. The distribution of such content, however, is judged to be a more subversive act and creates suspicion that the distributor is trying to “agitate” others.

The North Korean authorities continue to crack down and punish those who watch video content, but the “Korean Wave” is still popular among North Koreans. The authorities have moved to a strategy focused on cracking down on distributors and now seem to favor punishing them in public.

In his New Year’s Address, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un appeared to hint at this when he said, “We should launch a powerful drive to establish a socialist way of life and ennobling moral discipline, thus ensuring that no immoral and uncultured practices that run counter to our people’s emotions and aesthetic view are revealed.”

Moreover, given that the major political events of Kim Jong Il’s birthday (February 16) and the the Supreme People’s Assembly elections (March 10) are approaching, the crackdown on video content may be part of a broader strategy to increase solidarity among the people. The North Korean authorities may be intentionally trying to create an atmosphere of fear to prevent any issues from occurring during this sensitive period.

The rare holding of a public rally has reportedly led locals to ask themselves whether the authorities are handing out more severe punishments than in the past.

“The punishment for the accused will be announced after interrogations are completed by the police’s custody department, and people are saying that the accused will face at least 1-2 years in correctional facilities,” a separate source in Ryanggang Province reported, adding that “they are also saying that bribes won’t have any effect on their punishment.”