North Korean Authorities Use Arbitrary Crackdowns as Labor Recruitment Tactic

north-korea-workers-siniuju-dec15-2012.jpg North Korean workers walk along a path after finishing work in the border town of Siniuju across from China's northeastern city of Dandong, Dec. 15, 2012.

North Korean authorities are indiscriminately rounding up citizens to bolster an insufficient construction workforce at projects being built to celebrate an upcoming key political anniversary this year, sources inside the country said.

“Patrol teams” that mobilize on the streets of major cities have been pulling aside people who commit minor infractions to provide unpaid labor at the construction sites of buildings being erected to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Workers’ Party on Oct. 10, they said.  

The patrol teams are targeting the unemployed, those who fail to wear pins of former leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, and young men who wear skinny jeans and dye their hair, a source in North Hamgyong province told RFA’s Korean Service.

“Particularly when the unemployed are targeted, they are sentenced to a maximum of six months of ‘labor camp’ and are mobilized at the toughest construction sites,” he said. “There are only a few people who are flawless when a patrol team cracks down on them.”

When a patrol team pulls aside young people, it sends them to the second phase of a construction site at the Uhryangcheon hydroelectric power plant in North Hamgyong province, where they must work without pay for seven days, he said.

If the patrol team nabs senior citizens, it writes a report about their infractions and makes them stand on the street for an hour or so, he said.

The patrol team members are drawn from the Worker Monitoring Team, affiliated with the Youth Union, the People Security Team, and the Attire Monitoring Team of the newly organized Women’s Union, sources said.

“It has been said that the crackdowns were being conducted for a specific period between the anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s birthday [April 15] and the founding of the people’s Liberation Army [April 25],” said another source in North Hamgyong province, the country’s northernmost province.

He also said patrol teams had rounded up more than 1,000 people in a single day in Cheongjin, the provincial capital and the third-largest city in North Korea.

He added that the patrol teams have continued their crackdowns even if the specific periods during which they are authorized to cite citizens for minor infractions have ended.

The purpose of patrol teams’ crackdowns is not law enforcement, but to address labor shortages at several construction sites, the source said.

The teams have whisked away many people, including women, to various construction sites, raising the ire of North Koreans who are furious that authorities are forcing people to serve as construction laborers at impractical building projects, sources said.

Reported by Jieun Kim of RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Yunju Kim. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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