GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 444 February 29, 2012

[“Good Friends” aims to help the North Korean people from a humanistic point of view and publishes “North Korea Today” describing the way the North Korean people live as accurately as possible. We at Good Friends also hope to be a bridge between the North Korean people and the world.]
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[Intro] Control on Movement Going Too Far
ID Cards Required for Travel in Same City
Sentenced to at Least Three Years of Re-education for Illegal Cellular Phone Use
Security Tightens after an Outbreak of Arson
Widespread Anxiety under Heightened Regulation
National Border Patrol Has “Half-and-Half” Meal
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[Intro] Control on Movement Going Too Far
Now North Korean people must carry identification cards and passes even within the cities they reside in. They are stopped and inspected several times a day at check points at almost every single block. If caught using an illegal cellular phone, they are interrogated and held until they pay a fine even if they are proven to be innocent of treason [by using their phones].

It seems that the new regime is trying to tighten social discipline as the first ‘Day of Bright Star’ (Chairman Kim Jong-il’s birthday) holiday is approaching after his death. However, the excessive control on movement of people is threatening their livelihoods beyond the state of discomfort. Even when people need to travel to the neighboring village looking for food, their trips are interrupted.

At checkpoints are occurring human rights infringement cases. The inspection agents insult, curse and sometimes confiscate personal belongings from the travelers. Apparently it creates discontentment and anxiety among the people. It should have been the other way around to keep the society stable: people should not be restricted in being able to work for their own livelihoods. This is a time when the new regime needs people to voluntarily participate in the new industrial revolution it calls for. The excessive traffic control must be stopped promptly in order for people to travel freely and do business to make a living.


ID Cards Required for Travel in Same City
On February 16th a special security order was put into effect nationwide until the 17th for Kim Jong-il’s birthday. Employees working in reading rooms, research facilities, factories, businesses, city party offices and administrative offices nationwide worked for 24 hours two days in a row as part of an effort to strengthen security. The National Security Agency repeatedly released an order saying “In preparation for February 16th ‘Day of Bright Star’ (Kim Jong-il’s birthday) and April 15th ‘Day of the Sun’ (Kim Il-sung’s birthday), all citizens must be on alert to the actions of overseas anti-state forces and espionage activities carried out by defector organizations working under the direction of South Korea.”

North Korean authorities have strengthened control over the border region by constructing new police boxes and security check points or by increasing the frequency of patrols. Citizens in the border regions are now forced to carry around their identification cards even when traveling within the same city or county. For example, a citizen of Hoeryong City, North Hamgyong Province, traveling to Yoosun-dong will not only be subject to a search at a checkpoint, but will also have to present his/her identification card and a form signed by the local neighborhood unit head permitting the passage.

In Hoeryong City, new check points have been set up from the end of January at the entrance to the Boeul Bridge in Yoosun-dong, and at the crossings in Ingye-ri and Bangwon-ri, while additional patrols have begun in Hakpo-ri. North Korean authorities have also increased the search rate of cars and pedestrians at the Security Department checkpoint in Pungsan-ri, Hoeryong City, the General Guard Command checkpoint in Jeongeo-ri, the 9th Corps Defense Security Command checkpoint in Chungdo-dong, and the military camp and Public Security Department checkpoint in Mt. Komoo, Buryong County.


Sentenced to at Least Three Years of Re-education for Illegal Cellular Phone Use
The Safety Bureau issued a strong warning to anyone using illegal cell phones, threatening them to a minimum of three years of sentencing to a maximum of life imprisonment in accordance with the nature of the offense. It is a part of massive efforts to crack down on defectors and to keep people from communicating with South Koreans, who the North Korean government claims use propaganda to pose threat to national stability. The application of the law is not always consistent. Contrary to the official position of the Central Party that party officials will be discharged for the illegal use of cell phones, money can still spare the illegal users from imprisonment.

One police officer said, “In certain regions removed from Pyongyang, illegal cell phone users are released after paying a fine of 2 to 3 million won if they can prove the cell phone was used to earn a living.” Early in the morning on February 9, 2012, Joo-sung Kim (alias) in Musan County, North Hamgyong Province was caught making an overseas call to China, which is an illegal use of the cell phone according to law. Well aware of the repeated warnings against the illegal usage of cell phones, his family was deeply concerned about the consequences. The police officer who caught Mr. Kim dropped a hint to the concerned family that Mr. Kim could be released if they paid him 5,000 yuan in renminbi as a penalty for the offense. The police officer was kind enough to set a deadline, saying that it would be too late once the issue leaves his hands. Mr. Kim’s wife feels frustrated over the money issue.


Security Tightens after an Outbreak of Arson

Since the beginning of February, the National Security Agency has repeatedly ordered the Security Departments across the country to be alert and on guard for crimes during the holidays. The Neighborhood Units are lecturing daily that criminals who are caught will be severely punished without a second thought. Hoeryong City in North Hamkyong Province has been keeping a close eye on outbreaks of fires around the holidays. There was a forest fire on February 12th in Saeul-ri, Hoeryong. The fire spread rapidly and turned 24.5 acres of forest into ashes. Each Neighborhood Unit mobilized its residents to extinguish the fire, but the fire wasn’t put out until the Forest Management Team and the military arrived at the scene.

The National Security Agency concluded the incident was arson, and soon after rumors spread that the fire was set by North Korean reactionaries sponsored by South Korea. On the same day, a fire occurred at the stable in a collective farm in Changtae-ri. The haystack caught fire first, and then the flames were exacerbated by the arid and windy weather. The entire winter and spring’s supply of feed for the cows was consumed. The National Security Agency concluded this incident was arson as well. They also concluded the fires at the farms in Songhak-ri and middle school in Yoosun-dong last lunar New Year were cases of arson. People become anxious enough at a series of fires, but hearing that these fires may have been caused by espionage operations is even more disconcerting. The Security authorities of Hoeryong City are using the excuse of this series of fires to tighten the reins of control.


Widespread Anxiety under Heightened Regulation
Any kind of food weighing more than 30Kg being carried by people is subject to being seized; defectors are punished and sentenced as national traitors secretly in league with South Korea; and illegal cellular phone users are punished as war criminals. New checkpoints are being installed at every crossing near the border region, and the use of renminbi is still being prohibited. Despite perceptions that the regulation may be easing due to the order not to fire at the defectors, in reality, regulation seems to be getting more intense. One official of the Central Party shared that the regulation is strengthened as anxiety about the food crisis heightens for which there is no solution. [North Korean] People were expecting holiday provisions for February 16th, the ‘Day of Bright Star.’ Officials have in turn asked people many times for their patience until that day saying there would be provisions provided even if they received nothing on New Year’s Day. In spite of that, the special provisions were given only to the high ranking officials and to officials at the influential agencies, public enterprises, and units. The authorities are only aggravating people’s anxiety with their reinforcements of ideology and politics despite their intention to calm social unrest.

People shout in unison, “We wish the way of the world runs can be changed soon!” At the same time, many people are strongly hoping that a certain change will happen this year. The people’s desires for a change are reflected in a keen reaction towards events outside the country. People exchange news coming from the media and word of mouth and pay attention to global events more than ever before.


National Border Patrol Has “Half-and-Half” Meal
It has come to light that the National Border Patrol, which is treated better than other units, is receiving ‘half-and-half rice’ (50% rice and 50% corn) for their meals. This contrasts with the interior troops in Hwanghae and Kangwon Provinces, who have crushed corn, potato, or corn. Kim, Il-cheol (alias), who serves in the military in North Hamgyong Province, receives 800g of food daily, a mixture of half rice and half corn. Each platoon grows vegetables on about five acres of field. Since the General issued an order that soldiers should not impose any burden on the people, soldiers have provided side dishes such as vegetables, meat, and eggs for themselves. They usually eat breakfast at 7:10 a.m., lunch at 1:20 p.m., and dinner at 6:30 p.m., and they have ground soybean soup once a day. For the other meals they have bean paste soup with radish or napa cabbage, and cabbage kimchi or radish kimchi, etc. for side dishes. They have eight candies and two 100g finger-shaped cookies as snacks, and they get 10 cigarettes every day. They receive one summer uniform and one winter uniform each year, and the winter clothing includes warm underwear, an over-garment, a pair of winter boots, and a pair of gloves. Once every four years they are given a fur hat. Compared to soldiers serving in other areas, they are receiving favored treatment. When they are sick, they can go to a military clinic or get treatment by medics, but if they need medicine, they need to buy Chinese-made medication because of the shortage of domestic medication. They have to pay for the medication with their own earnings or with pocket money sent from home.
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