Too Many Bribes to Count

North Korean residents, in particular market traders, have reportedly been suffering since the arrival of new riot squads in August last year, set up by authorities concerned by the risk of civilian uprising.

The North Korean authorities established the riot squads in every province under the provincial People’s Safety Ministry, apparently inspired by negative public opinion since the currency revaluation in 2009 and alarming events in the Middle East. Squads are reportedly staffed with discharged soldiers whose main responsibility it is to find and eliminate troublemakers and bring any hint of civilian unrest to an end.

There have not been any disturbances since the squads were formed, but the risk is deemed sufficient to maintain them, and in the meantime their members are being mobilized to conduct inspections and crackdowns.

A source from North Hamkyung Province told The Daily NK, “Officers in PSM uniform walk around day and night near the train station or down alleyways, anywhere there are large groups of people conducting random ID inspections, body searches and checks of personal property. In particular, they check everybody moving around after 9pm.”

The presence of these groups has led to frequent turf wars between the riot squads and those PSM officers ordinarily assigned to the area in question, according to local sources.

In North Korea, where the norm has long been for local patrols to accept bribes in order to overlook a lot of the illegal and secret market activities which go on, the advent of yet another authority with the power to conduct inspections and crackdowns has led to further financial strain for the people. For those with no livelihood outside the market, the only alternative is to pay off everyone who asks.

On this, the source added, “A lot of people are complaining that it’s hard enough already finding the cash to bribe other patrols with, let alone having to care about the task forces as well. I guess they want to kill us all.”

The city of Chongjin in North Hamkyung Province alone has over 300 people in its riot squad, on top of existing patrols and other inspections teams made up of students from political universities mobilized whenever security needs to be beefed up around holidays and special events.

Even rail inspectors are on the long list of officials looking to earn extra through civilian checks and crackdowns. Citizens are also vulnerable to the whim of those charged with battling ‘anti-socialist behavior’ such as Group 109, which is responsible for crackdowns on people possessing ‘impure’ DVDs and other media.