Young North Korean group caught with BTS music faces harsh penalties

South Korean K-pop group BTS performs in November 2018
South Korean K-pop group BTS performs in November 2018. Image: Yonhap News

BTS is leading the craze for K-pop across the globe, but does the band have a following in North Korea too? A USB filled with BTS music was recently confiscated by North Korean authorities and those associated with it were all arrested, sources in Ryanggang Province reported.

“A USB filled with BTS music and South Korean dramas was discovered by North Korean authorities in the house of a former soldier in Hyesan, Ryanggang Province, early last month,” a source in Ryanggang Province told Daily NK on March 6. “He and others with him were arrested on the spot and are currently in a detention center undergoing a preliminary interrogation by the provincial MSS office.”

The source provided a full account of what happened.

Members of the “anti-socialist task force” (tasked with ferreting out and punishing behaviors considered counter to socialism) affiliated with the Ministry of State Security (MSS) conducted a surprise raid on houses that form part of inminban block 28 in Songbong-dong, Hyesan, at 8 pm on February 5, a national holiday. The authorities sought to take residents by surprise, given that most were relaxing at home.

During the raid, the 23-year-old son of the provincial Historical Site Management Office Elementary Party chairman and six of his friends from middle school were caught watching a Chinese movie. The son of the primary Party chairman had reportedly been given a hardship discharge from the military after serving near the 38th Parallel in the Korean People’s Army’s 5th Corps.

The MSS anti-socialist group discovered three CDs filled with unsubtitled Chinese movies underneath blankets in the house along with two USB sticks. One of the USBs was loaded with BTS music while the other had the Korean drama “Do You Want to Live Together” on it, which was broadcast in 2018.

The seven young men were arrested on the spot and placed in a detention center that same night. The preliminary examination department secretary (the head of the preliminary examination department) is currently managing the case, meaning that the authorities are taking the crimes very seriously.

A separate source in Ryanggang Province with knowledge of the incident reported that the parents of the young men are arguing that “[North Korea] has closer relations with China now and is our brother country, so Chinese movies and dramas should no longer be considered impure.”

Given that South Korean music and dramas were discovered during the raid, however, local residents are saying that the young men will likely face serious punishment, the source said.

The authorities are strongly cracking down on the spread of capitalist culture in the country to prevent ideological breaks with the regime and to prevent residents from planning to leave the country. As part of these efforts, the authorities are strongly cracking down on South Korean dramas and movies, along with South Korean music.

Section 6 of the North Korean criminal code that deals with the “crime of violating socialist culture,” states that “Anyone who illegally imports, creates or distributes the pictures, photographs, books, music, and movies of a decadent or erotic nature produced in another country without permission (Clause 183) or anyone who watches, listens to, or recreates such material (Clause 184) faces up to one year in a disciplinary labor center (rodong dallyeondae).”

The North Korean criminal code stipulates that anyone who violates this law on a regular basis faces up to five years of reform through labor (rodong hyohwahyeong), and those who commit particularly grave violations face up to 10 years.

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