Authorities in North Korea’s capital Pyongyang have been cracking down on taxi cabs violating a midnight curfew imposed as part of what sources say is a bid to root out anti-socialist elements and foreign influence during politically sensitive holidays and national events.
According to the sources, authorities in Pyongyang have otherwise loosely imposed the curfew, but feared that foreign influences could undermine the stability of the regime and are targeting taxis because they are most frequently used by visiting tourists or wealthy residents who have traveled abroad.
North Korea maintains a curfew across the country but mainly enforces it during periods of political sensitivity.
But Pyongyang also imposes a nightly curfew which prevents owners of private vehicles from driving the city streets without a permit, though taxis may officially use the roads until midnight.
A Chinese national named Ryu, who recently visited North Korea, said that anyone taking a cab flouting curfew regulations after midnight was very likely to be pulled over by the authorities, and that foreigners found to be traveling without proper identification can face serious problems.
“The People’s Safety Department patrol investigates cab riders after curfew goes into effect and foreigners cannot take a taxi without their passports,” he told RFA’s Korean Service.
Ryu, who was pulled over with his companions while taking a taxi after midnight, said he had been detained for nearly two hours by police who demanded to see his passport.
The authorities interrogated each member of his party individually and only released them after they explained in detail the reason for why they had been out so late.
He said that the group was “strongly asked” not to wander around after midnight.
As a result of the strict enforcement of the curfew on cabs, Ryu said, taxis are now nowhere to be found in the city beginning at 12:00 a.m.
A resident of Nampo in South Pyongan province, about 33 miles (53 kilometers) southwest of the capital, said that the scope of the curfew is not limited to Pyongyang and that it is enforced with varying degrees of strictness in different regions of the country.
The resident said that he had witnessed three locals from the city’s Taedong river area arrested by police while walking back to their homes from a wedding in the Sadong district after midnight, adding that they had only been released “after giving bribes.”
He said that during a recent event, authorities in Nampo had been particularly tough about imposing the curfew.
“Following the Workers’ Convention in February, a special joint group made up of the National Security Department and the People’s Safety Department’s special prosecutor’s office was organized to conduct a citywide purge, with undercover agents frequently investigating citizens at both the train and subway stations,” he said.
The sources said that curfew enforcement this month would be particularly severe due to several high profile events, including the thirteenth Supreme People's Assembly meeting on April 9 and North Korea founder Kim Il Sung’s birthday on April 15.
They said that stricter enforcement of the curfew is part of a number of new measures imposed following the execution of Kim Jong Un’s uncle Jang Song Thaek four months ago as part of an extensive purge in the government and military last year.
The move shook the foundations of the North Korean state and authorities have been charged with stamping out any threats to the regime’s stability in its politically sensitive aftermath, they said.
Reported by Young Jung for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Min Seon Kim. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.