Authorities in North Korea have arrested a number of people who were found to have removed jamming devices on their televisions in order to watch coverage of a massive military parade in China last week, according to sources inside the reclusive state.
Television sets produced in North Korea have included equipment to prevent access of foreign broadcasts since the early 1990s, but sources told RFA’s Korean Service that as word spread of the parade marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, many residents of provinces along the country’s northern border with China had the jamming devices removed in order to view the Sept. 3 event live.
A source from North Hamgyong province, across the border from the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in China’s Jilin province, said that local residents can easily access Chinese broadcasts once the devices are removed from their television sets.
“At the border areas of North Hamgyong province, it is easy to get reception of Chinese Yanbian Korean-Chinese TV and Chinese state TV channels,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
However, local authorities became aware that residents were planning to view the parade—during which China unveiled its newest military technology to an audience which included several top foreign dignitaries—and launched a crackdown, arresting anyone found to have accessed the broadcast.
“In the cities of Onsong, Hoeryong and Musan, the 27th division of North Korea’s State Political Security Department conducted spot inspections … arresting many people who watched the parade,” the source said.
Those who were detained were able to secure their release by paying “fines” in Chinese yuan, he said, noting that the currency is preferred for its stability over the weak North Korean won. It was unclear whether the fines were official or a form of extortion.
North Korea at ‘child’s level’
A source from Yanggang province, which also lies across the border from Jilin, confirmed the crackdown on North Koreans who viewed the parade, but said that efforts by authorities to stifle information about the event were futile.
“Despite strict monitoring and controls, news about China’s military parade has spread rapidly,” said the source, who also declined to be named.
“In particular, many North Koreans were shocked to see South Korean President Park Geun-hye through the broadcast of the parade, as well as scenes that included modern weapons and officials from various foreign countries filling Tiananmen Square.”
Park is routinely vilified in North Korean media, which portrays South Korea as a lowly puppet of the United States, but she enjoyed a prominent place on the parade viewing stand, next to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
According to the source, the spectacle left North Koreans embarrassed about their own country’s status within the international community.
Residents began talking about how North Korean parades were at a “child’s level” in comparison, he said, with many expressing expectations that an upcoming event to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the ruling Workers’ Party on Oct. 10 would be “a public shaming.”
“So the State Political Security Department believed that those who had witnessed the event were the origin of the discussions, and found and punished them, to stop the conversation,” he said.
Forbidding foreign media
North Korea’s government maintains an iron grip on the flow of information in the country, and routinely punishes citizens for accessing foreign radio and other media.
In April, the Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent U.S. monitor group, ranked North Korea the world’s second most repressive country for media, noting that the official Korean Central News Agency—a government mouthpiece—provided “nearly all the content” of newspapers, periodicals, and broadcasts.
North Korean authorities have long tried to block South Korean soap operas, movies, and music from entering the country in an attempt to keep unwanted foreign influences from seeping into the Hermit Kingdom.
In November 2013, authorities publicly executed some 80 people in a wave of capital punishment across seven cities, many of them for watching foreign media, South Korean media reported.
Reported by Jieun Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Ahreum Jung. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.