Kim Jong Un’s new secret squads will execute anyone viewing pornography under the North Korean dictator’s efforts to clamp down on ‘foreign influences’.
Enforcers are working to stamp out foreign television, hair cuts and even birthday parties, according to testimony from a defector included in a new report.
The squads, known as ‘gruppa’ or ‘non-socialist groups’, are tasked by Pyongyang to pursue violations of the Communist Party’s official ideology.
‘The groups operate as a hidden tool, which is used by the government to achieve their ultimate objectives of ubiquitous surveillance and the ability to thoroughly oversee each and every resident,’ the report says.Foreign media, particularly anything deemed to be ‘Western’, is strictly prohibited in North Korea – which brainwashes its population to unquestionably support Kim Jong Un and his ruling regime. Any dissent is severely punished.
The dictator views South Korea as an American puppet state, and is highly sensitive to any of its media crossing the border from China, fearing the influence it may have.
For some time now, any sign that someone may have been consuming media from the South has resulted in brutal consequences.
Now, according to the report by the Database Centre for North Korean Human Rights (NKDB) based in Seoul, Kim is tightening his grip even more with the gruppa.
Citizens are being prosecuted for anything from defection, drug dealing, smuggling and begging, to being absent from work, traffic offences, adultery, dying one’s hair, religious practices and taking part in ‘decadent culture’ – which can include parties.
‘It is worse than the Kim Jong Il era,’ one testimony quoted in the report said.
‘The border has become tighter, more barbed wire fences have been installed. Also, there were instructions to directly fire at any person crossing the border.
‘[…] I’ve heard about people being shot for distributing impure cultural contents. There was one person who was executed for watching pornography and prostituting at his place after Kim Jong Un took office.’
North Koreans visit and pay respect to the statues of late leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il on Mansu Hill in Pyongyang, North Korea Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023 on Lunar New Year
‘First they check how you dress. Then what type of music you listen to, what videos you watch, whether you have dyed your hair […] You cannot have a birthday party as a group,’ the defector said, according to the report.
‘They keep saying not to have gatherings and drink alcohol because when people are drunk, they will end up singing one or two South Korean songs for sure.’
The report said that the secret informants are becoming increasingly preoccupied with the smuggling and distribution of South Korean media.
Outlawed songs, movies and television shows such as ‘Squid Game’ or ‘Crash Landing on You’ are sometimes smuggled into the country on USB flash drives.
One of the methods used by the ‘non-socialist groups’ is to cut off power to the homes of people suspected of watching banned media, and therefore preventing them from removing DVDs of videotapes from the payer and hiding their ‘guilt’.
Punishments range from demotion at work, being fired, or even sent to a re-education or labour camp. In the most extreme cases – such as being found to have been watching pornography – people could be executed by firing squad.
‘If you consume sexual media content in North Korea, you are either punished with a lifetime term of “reform through labour” or even executed by firing squad. Watching typical South Korean or American material will lead to a sentence of fewer than ten years of ‘reform through labour,’ according to another defector’s testimony.
Earlier this month, it was reported that four students were expelled from university and forced to work in a coal mine because they sounded as if they had been watching too much foreign TV, by using accents or phrases from the South.
It is believed the students likely picked up the way of speaking through watching media outlawed by the ruling party.
In December 2020, North Korea brought in the Rejection of Reactionary Thought and Culture Act, which punishes citizens with up to two years of hard labour for those who are caught speaking, writing or singing in a South Korean style.
The tough punishment of hard labour could be up to 15 years, while residents who are caught distributing foreign media content face the death penalty.
It was under this law that two teenagers were executed in October for selling USB drives containing South Korean TV shows or films. They were killed by firing squad.
The pair, both boys thought to be aged between 16 and 17, were shot on an airfield in front of terrified locals in the city of Hyesan, on the border with China. The news of their deaths only emerged two months later in December.
A third boy of the same age was executed alongside them for murdering his stepmother, with locals told the crimes were ‘equally evil’ as media distribution.
The ruling Communist regime uses informants recruited from the general population in order to catch those selling the drives, and report them to the authorities.
In the case of the two teenagers, one of these spies reported them for hawking thumb drives containing the programmes in the local marketplace.
Such executions are rare in North Korea but not unheard of, and are typically used to terrify people into obedience when authorities are worried about rule-breaking.
North Korean youth caught watching foreign movies face being sent to a disciplinary labour centre, one source in Hyesan said.
A second offence means being sent to a correctional camp for five years along with their parents, as punishment for failing to discipline their children.
But anyone caught distributing or selling South Korean movies can face the death penalty, even if they are minors, the source added.
In December 2021, it was reported that at least ten civilians in the previous decade had been killed by firing squad for watching South Korean content.
It has also been reported that some officials were executed with anti-aircraft guns.