North Korean authorities have made college students perform forced labor and denied them academic diplomas for watching a South Korean television drama about an actress from the North who was executed by former leader Kim Jong Il, according to sources inside the country.
“About five students at Kim Il Sung University, Kim Hyong Jik University of Education and Pyongyang Railroad College who watched ‘Until the Azalea Blooms’ were sent to a prison camp,” an official in Pyongyang told RFA’s Korean Service.
Thirty college students who surrendered themselves to North Korean authorities for watching the TV drama have been forced to work at construction sites, and those who were about to graduate received only a certificate instead of a university diploma, he said.
“Of all the university students, only a few turned themselves in to North Korean authorities and were punished,” the Pyongyang official said. “But their curiosity about ‘Until the Azalea Blooms’ seems to have grown in the wake of the punishments and crackdown.”
South Korean TV series, which are banned by North Korean authorities, are very popular among college students in Pyongyang. Authorities previously looked into college students watching ‘Until the Azalea Blooms’ but did not punish them severely, according to sources.
North Korea imposes a strict ban on foreign media, and harsh punishments, including execution, can be handed down to those caught watching South Korean TV dramas smuggled into the country on DVDs and other electronic storage devices.
Nevertheless, the popularity of “Until the Azalea Blooms” spread quickly among students and intellectuals in Pyongyang because of its realistic portrayal of North Korean society under former leader Kim Il Sung’s regime (1948-1994), a student at a university in Pyongyang told RFA.
Kim Jong Il ruled North Korea from his father's death in 1994 until he died in 2011 and power was inherited by Kim Jong Un.
College students also enthusiastically embraced the drama out of a desire to better understand current leader Kim Jong Un, whose behavior and actions resemble those of his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, he said.
They increasingly circulated the show’s 10 episodes about Woo In Hee, an actress who was executed in the early 1980s, on 16-gigabyte micro-memory chips and watched them on their cell phones, the source said.
Woo In Hee was known to be one of the mistresses that former leader Kim Jong Il had in addition to his four wives. She was publicly executed for speaking out about their relationship.
“The instruction was delivered to all universities in Pyongyang in early April that students watching the South Korean television drama … voluntarily surrender themselves to the low-level Workers’ Party committee,” he said.
Reported by Sung-Hui Moon of RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Yunju Kim. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.