North Korea Orders Internet Access Blocked For Its Workers in Russia

Many had watched the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, in which North Korea placed poorly.

Fireworks explode over the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta at the conclusion of the 2018 Asian Games.

North Korea has ordered internet access blocked for laborers sent to work in Russia, alarmed by reports that many of those sent to work there had viewed regional athletic games in which Pyongyang  performed poorly, North Korean sources said.

News from the 2018 Asian Games, which ran from Aug. 18 to Sept. 2 in Jakarta, Indonesia, was spread quickly by workers returning from Russia, where they had been sent to earn money for North Korea’s cash-strapped regime, a source in the capital Pyongyang told RFA’s Korean Service.

“The authorities had been saying that North Korea was dominating as an athletic competitor, but then we found out we were ranked at 10th place in the Games,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

When North Korean workers in Russia learned the Asian Games were being held, they went on the internet and watched the competitions on their smartphones, the source said, adding that many were familiar with the North Korean athletes taking part.

Authorities in Pyongyang then ordered North Korean diplomatic offices in Russia to block workers’ access to the internet, the source said.

“It isn’t easy to control thousands of workers at once, though, so most of them were still able to watch the Asian Games on their smartphones in spite of authorities’ efforts to crack down on the internet,” he said.

Some workers who weren’t familiar with the internet were able to use it with the help of their friends, the sources said.

“And since North Korean workers in Russia often have more time available now to work alone, there were more opportunities for them to use their smartphones without being caught,” he said.

'A great comfort'

Also speaking to RFA, a second source in Pyongyang said that North Korean workers in Russia often watch foreign shows on the internet, finding these a relief from the boredom and stress of their work.

“Their three-year contracts have been renewed many times, so for workers who are sent abroad, watching foreign shows on the internet can be a great comfort.”

Many North Koreans working in Russia were connected in some way to the Asian Games, the source said, also speaking on condition he not be named.

“Most of them come from Pyongyang, and their children or siblings work in the sports industry or are athletes who went to the Games,” he said.

“It’s hard to understand why the authorities won’t allow the family members of athletes to watch the international sports games, and many now criticize the government for not caring about the athletes’ families, who do their best to support them,” he said.

Reported by Jieun Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Richard Finney.