North Korea’s annual campaign to mobilize its population to do unpaid farm work has prompted wealthy citizens to bribe doctors to issue false medical evaluations that exempt them from the compulsory labor, sources inside the country said.
Authorities of the regime of leader Kim Jong Un require that male and female citizens mobilize to provide additional farming manpower during the spring planting season and in early summer when rice is grown.
In response, wealthy North Koreans have been paying bribes to doctors at hospitals to issue phony diagnoses of medical conditions that will get them out of performing hard manual labor in the fields, sources said.
An incident involving a drunken, wealthy North Korean who was returning to the capital Pyongyang by train during the mobilization period after visiting relatives in China, tipped off authorities that rich citizens might be obtaining false medical papers to skip the mass mobilization, said a source in North Hamgyong province which borders China.
The authorities arrested the man, who is said to be a merchant, when he displayed violent behavior. They discovered that he had a valid travel document which usually cannot be obtained during mass mobilizations, said the source who declined to give his name.
“Only rich people can get it by paying a bribe to officials,” he said.
The man also had been diagnosed as a spinal stenosis patient in need of long-term treatment for the condition in which the spinal canal narrows causing back pain and other nerve-related problems, he said.
“[Yet], he got drunk and got violent,” the source said.
“[The man] is known to be exempt from the farming mobilization by bribing doctors for a fake diagnosis,” he said.
The authorities who arrested the train passenger alerted the Central Committee, the leadership body of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, which then ordered inspections of the People’s Hospitals, the source said.
The People’s Hospital in the Chongam district of Chongjin, capital of North Hamgyong province and the country’s third-largest city, is being inspected by professionals from the city’s Science and Education Department, who believe that doctors have been issuing false diagnoses in return for bribes so wealthy North Koreans have a legitimate excuse to get out of the mandatory farming mobilization, he said.
‘Powerless people suffer’
A source in North Pyongan province said that ordinary people who cannot afford to pay bribes and must provide the forced labor resent that wealthy and powerful people are getting medical exemptions.
“Powerless people are suffering physically from farming, while some rich people are lounging around,” said the source who requested anonymity.
The amount needed to bribe a doctor to issue a false medical diagnosis valid for a month is about 200 Chinese yuan (U.S. $30), he said.
“Very wealthy North Koreans pay more to obtain a diagnosis that is valid for several months to a few years and become ‘long-term patients,’” the source said.
Though inspectors conduct probes of People’s Hospitals for false diagnoses every year, it has become a mere formality, the source said.
“If the false diagnostic statements are discovered, doctors can easily get away with it by bribing inspectors, so it is only the powerless people who are forced to participate in what is essentially slave labor during farming season.”
Other North Koreans are responding to the drive with satire.
“North Korean residents are taunting the Central Committee’s propaganda about farming mobilization that requires the participation of every individual if they have the energy to hold a spoon,” said the source in North Hamgyong province.
“They are ridiculing the propaganda by raising the possibility of avoiding the farming mobilization if they use chopsticks instead of spoons,” he said.
Mandatory mass mobilization campaigns, or “battles” as the regime likes to call them, are routine in North Korea, where the authorities use them to mobilize manpower for various projects and measure citizens’ loyalty to the state and Korean Workers’ Party.
Earlier this year, North Korean authorities imposed limits on the operating hours of local markets nationwide to encourage residents to go the fields and collect manure to use as fertilizer in light of a shortage of chemical fertilizer.
The move caused great discontent among locals, many of whom shop for food and other necessities during the day.
Reported by Jieun Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.