North Korea bans cellphones from public propaganda lectures

No clear reason is given, but people suspect authorities want to prevent video recordings from being spread
By Hyemin Son for RFA Korean
2023.01.10
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North Korea bans cellphones from public propaganda lectures A man speaks on the phone in front of the April 25 House of Culture, a venue of the Workers' Party of Korea congress in Pyongyang, North Korea.
Reuters

North Koreans are no longer allowed to bring their cellphones into propaganda lectures, which are a regular, mandatory part of life there, sources in the country say.

While no explicit reason has been given, the sources told Radio Free Asia they suspect the government wants to prevent them from recording the content and sending it abroad.

When entering a public hall before a special study session reviewing recent government policy, one resident in South Pyongan province said she had to give up her cell phone for the first time.

“The person who collected the phones was the head of the Socialist Women’s Union of Korea,” said the woman, who insisted on anonymity for fear of reprisals. “She explained that this was to implement an order from the authorities to bar cellphones into any location where the party is conducting a policy study session.”

After the session, the phones were returned to them, she said.

Attending propaganda meetings is required of all citizens. Whenever Pyongyang wants to push a new policy, emphasize certain ideological views or to spread a government-friendly narrative, citizens must gather in public halls or auditoriums and listen to a government official talk, or watch a film. 

This is on top of weekly neighborhood watch unit meetings or other gatherings required by their government-assigned jobs.

Some wondered if the ban was due to a special security period before the leader Kim Jong Un’s Jan. 8 birthday, while others complained it was simply another way authorities were trying to control their lives.

Privately, residents complained that there was not anything that could be leaked to the public, since the plenary meeting was public anyway.

“What is it about the party policy meeting that is such a secret that it demands the people’s efforts and repeated struggle?” the source said. 

The cellphone ban is not only for special study sessions, but for regularly scheduled propaganda meetings too, a source from the northeastern province of North Pyongan told RFA on condition of anonymity to speak freely.

Workers’ cellphones were collected during one such routine meeting at the Rakwon Machine Complex, he said.

“This is the first time that cellphones have been retrieved before entering a regularly held lecture given by the Propaganda and Agitation Department of the Party,” the second source said, adding that there was no explanation as to whether the measure was temporary. 

“It seems that this measure will continue at all lectures in the future,” the source said. “Residents are criticizing the behavior of the authorities, who they say only care about controlling their lives day and night.”

Translated by Claire Shinyoung Oh Lee. Written in English by Eugene Whong. Edited by Malcolm Foster.

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