North Korea Prevents Trade Officials Abroad From Using Internet

nkorea-computers-2012.jpg Students work on computers at the Kim Il Sung University library in Pyongyang on April 11, 2012.

North Korea has issued an order preventing its trade officials abroad from using the Internet, apparently to stop them from sending “outside information” to the reclusive country that could threaten its iron-clad rule, according to sources.

The government-linked officials, whose job is to generate revenue for the cash starved government by trading in goods or services, have also been asked not to use emails to contact their parties back home but to fax messages to them, the sources told RFA’s Korean Service, speaking on condition of anonymity.

A source living in China along the border with North Korea said the order was issued verbally by senior officials in Pyongyang recently.

It is causing great inconvenience to the trade officials, most of whom are based in China with others living in Europe, Russia, and Africa, the source said.

“The order discouraging trade workers abroad from using the Internet by the North Korean government is actually a warning to not [disseminate] outside information,” said the source, who is linked to trading of goods with North Korea.

“Trade workers abroad are used to contacting the North Korean authorities at home by email,” the source said.

“According to the order discouraging Internet use, in order to contact North Korea about even little things, they must go through the trouble of using faxes,” added the source.

The order appears to contradict North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s directive to North Koreans involved in trade abroad to be IT savvy.

According to sources, almost all those approved to work in the trade sector abroad own a laptop, which they acquired using savings left over after remitting money to the government. Controlling the use of these laptops is not an easy task, they said.

“It’s actually impossible to control trade workers abroad from using the Internet, especially after experiencing the advantages of the Internet,” the source in China said.

South Korean sites

A key concern for Pyongyang is access by the North Korean trader officials to information on arch-rival South Korea. 

These officials are primarily accessing South Korean sites due to the common Korean language, said a Korean-Chinese acquainted with a North Korean trader.

“There aren’t any trader workers abroad who don’t have a laptop computer. And it’s a matter of time before they connect to South Korean websites which use the same language.”

He explained that since it was easier to access the Internet abroad than in North Korea, trade officials were free to watch online interesting South Korean movies, entertainment TV shows and refugee talk shows, as well as various news programs.

Sources said the order discouraging Internet use was transmitted verbally by North Korean officials in the countries where the trade officials are based.

It’s believed that follow-up measures would be introduced, including the possible seizure of computers of those who defied the order, the sources said.

The North Korean government has long kept an iron grip on information flow into the country. Citizens are punished for accessing foreign radio and other media or for using smuggled cell phones that operate on Chinese networks across the border.

Reported by Joon Ho Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Jina Lee. Written in English by Di Hoa Le.

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