All Foreign Media Banned By North Korean Officials

Although North Korea has banned all foreign media, those willing to take the risk find ways to avert the law. Smugglers obtain illegal copies of highly desired entertainment, and distribute it through black market back channels. But the show North Korean officials have been especially concerned about is Netflix’s mega hit series Squid Game. According to Radio Free Asia, which reported this Tuesday, the sentence for watching, distributing, and smuggling the series has grave consequences.

Not familiar with Squid Game? It is a South Korean produced television series dubbed and distributed by Netflix. The show easily became Netflix’s most successful series to date, it will bring in over $900 million in revenueSquid Game is about a dystopian version of society that highlights the graphic and violent aspects of poverty. The show features a contest of 456 South Korean participants, who all succumbed to their extreme debt. In order to escape their circumstances, and win $38 million, they must compete (to the death) in a demented version of childhood games, usually played at recess.

North Korean Resident Tells All

Sources talked to Radio Free Asia and explained that the series would resonate with North Koreans given the extreme nature of the show. They went on to say that those who are wealthy residents of Pyongyang would especially identify with the series. Radio Free Asia obtained a statement from a Pyongyang resident.

The resident explained, “Squid Game has been able to enter the country on memory storage devices such as USB flash drives and SD cards, which are smuggled in by ship, and then make their way inland.” The resident went on, “they say that the content is similar to the lives of Pyongyang officials who fight in the foreign currency market as if it is a fight for life and death.”

Pyongyang Teens Watch The Illegal Media

According to the source, the show has even piqued the interest of Pyongyang teens. The violence appeals to them. They find ways to consume the show, late at night and sometimes under their covers — so parents don’t know. The portable players run the show via USB flash drives and SD cards. Law enforcement from the North Hamgyong province (the area shares China’s border) also chimed in on the story. The source, who was not named, said that a high school student and one of his friends watched Squid Game while in a classroom.

The law enforcement source went on to say, “the friend told several other students, who became interested, and they shared the flash drive with them. They were caught by the censors in 109 Sangmu, who had received a tipoff.”

The government’s strike force against outside media – North Korea’s Surveillance Bureau Group 109, an organization created by the government to fight against foreign media, arrested the students, seven in all.

Another source added, “the residents are all trembling in fear because they will be mercilessly punished for buying or selling memory storage devices, no matter how small. But regardless of how strict the government’s crackdown seems to be, rumors are circulating that among the seven arrested students, one with rich parents was able to avoid punishment because they bribed the authorities with $3,000.”

Smuggler Sentenced To Death

In response, North Korea severely sentenced those involved. According to sources who spoke to RFA, authorities sentenced the man who smuggled and sold digital copies of Squid Game to death by firing squad. This happened after officials found the high school students watching the show. The smuggler transported a copy of the series back from China, and sold it on flash drives.

High School Student Sentenced To A Lifetime Of Hard Labor

In addition, the high school student, who bought one of the copies, received a life sentence. The other students, who watched the show, received five years of hard labor. The teachers, the school administrators, including the students’ homeroom teacher did not escape punishment. The government felt that those in charge (at the school) failed the students.

The teachers and administrators did not create an enriching environment without foreign media interference, so they fired all staff. To take matters even further, they also face banishment. Officials could also force them to work in remote mines.

North Korea’s Elimination Of Reactionary Thought And Culture Law

All this comes from the Elimination of Reactionary Thought and Culture law that North Korea passed last year. Officials can assign penalties up to death for the act of possessing, watching or distributing any media from capitalist countries. The countries on that list include South Korea and the U.S.

Another source told RFA that “law enforcement is not playing around with the new law, and they are fiercely trying to root out every instance of capitalist culture.” Another RFA source said, “but times are tough due to the pandemic, so even the police are struggling to make ends meet. Putting a few bucks in their pocket will make them go away if you get caught watching South Korean media.”


Images via Netflix.

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