With the border area enveloped in ‘Storm Trooper Unit’ inspections, operations against South Korean goods have been stepped up in distant Pyongyang, according to a man from the city who talked to the Daily NK in Dandong, China on Tuesday.
“Inspections by ‘Group 109’, which has been around for a while, have gradually become more intense,” the man, Kim, explained. “Worst of all, they are showing up in the middle of the night without warning to search for CDs, DVDs and recorders, and if there are any materials such as pornography or South Korean merchandise, then the offender is taken away. There are no exceptions.”
“In the past when the National Security Agency or People’s Safety Ministry came to inspect, people would pay them to let it slide, but nowadays the authorities send an agent from both of those agencies and the Defense Security Command as a team, which makes it hard to get out of it if you get caught,” he added.
A Daily NK source from Pyongyang confirmed the story, saying that as recently as July one could escape Group 109 punishment for watching South Korean or American DVDs with a bribe of $100 in central Pyongyang, or less in the surrounding areas.
Group 109 is an organization set up by the Chosun Workers’ Party to crack down on illegal media including CDs and DVDs. The group is one of a number of ‘Gruppas’, as they are locally known, currently operating in the capital, with others including Group 622, which handles juvenile delinquency, and Group 27, actually a branch of the Defense Security Command, which deals with mobile phone usage.
The various groups have been conducting their assorted inspections to weed out myriad ‘anti-socialist’ behavior for some time, but bribery has always provided an escape route, albeit while those without money or connections were made an example of. However in recent times, allegedly since successor Kim Jong Eun ordered more intense inspections and punishments, the ‘Gruppas’ have had to take their tasks more seriously.
The volume of South Korean goods trading in the market has contracted due to the recent crackdowns, but their popularity is undiminished; evasion of inspections is apparently being achieved via house calls to trusted clients. Kim says that the preference is only getting stronger for South Korean goods amongst cadres, a group which has always been safe from inspections.
“The traders go around the city knocking on people’s doors, quietly asking whether the residents would like to buy some South Korean merchandise. For this reason the nickname ‘knock-knocker’ is sometimes used to refer to them,” Kim explained.