Two Teens In North Korea Have Been Sentenced To 12 Years Hard Labor For Watching South Korean TV

Source: Flickr/Prachatai / South and North Development (SAND)

The shocking footage, which appears to have been filmed in 2022, depicts two 16-year-old boys handcuffed in front of hundreds of students at an outdoor stadium. The video demonstrates the North Korean authorities reprimanding the minors for their transgression of watching South Korean dramas, which are banned in the country.

While incidents involving foreign media have occurred before, punishments have typically been less harsh for juveniles. However, a 2020 law made the viewing or distribution of South Korean entertainment punishable by death, suggesting an escalating crackdown. The narrator in the video echoes state propaganda by referring to the shows as coming from a “rotten puppet regime” that has managed to influence even teenagers.

Background on North Korea’s Media Restrictions

The North Korean regime maintains strict control over access to information and media in the country. This includes a near-total ban on foreign films, television shows, music, and more. Authorities see external media as dangerous influences that could undermine obedience to North Korean ideology and the ruling Kim family.

Source Wikipedia/ Wikidata

Enforcement of media restrictions has grown harsher in recent years. In 2020, North Korea enacted a law making the consumption or distribution of South Korean entertainment punishable by death. Offenders were previously sent to labor camps for under five years. Footage emerged in 2022 showing teenagers handcuffed and reprimanded for watching South Korean dramas, signaling tougher punishment.

Rare Footage: The Shocking Scene Unveiled

The video depicts a distressing scene where the boys are publicly shamed and condemned for their actions. As stated by the narrator, they are accused of ruining their futures by indulging in the “rotten puppet regime’s culture” of South Korea.

Source South and North Development (SAND)

In the past, minors breaking these laws may have faced lighter sentences in youth labor camps for less than five years. However, under new statutes enacted in 2020, the punishment for watching or distributing South Korean entertainment can now be death.

Source of the Footage: South and North Development (SAND)

The footage provided to the BBC was obtained from the South and North Development (SAND), a research institute that works with North Korean defectors. SAND is dedicated to documenting human rights conditions and political developments within North Korea.

Source: Twitter/ SwedeninKR

Established in 2011, SAND conducts interviews with recent defectors to gain insight into changes happening inside the isolated country. The organization also obtains secret video footage filmed inside North Korea to provide visual evidence to accompany the defector’s testimony.

Authorities’ Response: Ideology Education and Warning to Citizens

The North Korean authorities have used the video of the two teenagers being sentenced to hard labor to reinforce the state’s ideology further and warn citizens against accessing “decadent” South Korean media.

Source: Flickr

As such, they aim to make an example out of those caught accessing this type of contraband material. By distributing the video internally, the regime utilizes the incident for ideology education about the “dangers” of South Korean media.

Changing Enforcement: Authorities Cracking Down

Based on video evidence of recent incidents, North Korean authorities appear to be intensifying their crackdown on individuals accessing forbidden media from South Korea. Such entertainment is officially banned and punishable by death since 2020 laws.

Source: Pixabay

Defectors have attested to these shows providing a wildly different worldview compared to North Korean portrayals of the South living in squalor. To prevent this ideological erosion, authorities seem to be doubling down on their crackdown despite the previous sunshine policy era opening channels for cultural exchange.

Escalating Punishments: From Labor Camps to the Death Penalty

Historically, North Korea has taken a harsh stance towards those who access or distribute foreign media from capitalist countries like South Korea and the United States. Those found in violation would typically face imprisonment in labor camps for up to five years. However, punishments have escalated dramatically in recent years.

Source: Wikipedia

In 2020, North Korea enacted a new law making the viewing or distribution of South Korean films and television punishable by death. This shift demonstrates how seriously the regime views the spread of outside media as a threat to its ideological control over the population.

Impact on Society: Danger to North Korea’s Ideology

The spread of South Korean entertainment, especially K-dramas and K-pop music, poses a grave threat to the North Korean regime’s monolithic ideology that exalts the Kim family, according to experts. Though banned, some North Koreans secretly watch these programs, risking severe punishment if caught.

Source: Unsplash/ Thomas Evans

Authorities see admiration for South Korean culture and society depicted in the dramas and music videos as contradicting the official propaganda that life is much worse in the capitalist South. Exposure even to snippets creates cognitive dissonance and erodes the personality cult built around Kim’s leadership.

South Korean Entertainment’s Infiltration: From Sunshine Policy to Present

The “sunshine policy” period of the early 2000s allowed some South Korean entertainment to first infiltrate North Korea. During this time, Seoul provided unconditional economic and humanitarian aid to Pyongyang. However, by 2010, South Korea ended this policy due to minimal positive impact.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Despite no longer having support through government channels, South Korean media has continued to reach North Korean citizens through China up to the present day. Exposure to South Korean entertainment, such as TV dramas and K-pop music videos, provides North Koreans a glimpse into the outside world.

Voices of Defectors: K-Dramas as a “Drug” for North Koreans

According to testimony from North Korean defectors, South Korean dramas have become incredibly popular, albeit illegal, viewing in the North. These K-dramas provide a glimpse into South Korean life that starkly contrasts with the harsh realities faced by many North Koreans.

Source: Amazon

As one defector informed BBC Korean, getting caught watching American media may warrant bribery, but South Korean dramas are seen as a much more serious offense that could result in execution. She stated, “If you get caught watching an American drama, you can get away with a bribe, but if you watch a Korean drama, you get shot.”

The Forbidden Fruit

According to research group SAND CEO Choi Kyong-hui, the North Korean government views the spread of K-dramas and K-pop as dangerous to its ideological control. However harsh the consequences, some North Koreans persist in accessing this illegal media, risking their future for a temporary escape.

Source: Netflix

Nevertheless, some North Korean citizens persist in illegally viewing South Korean entertainment. As one young defector explained, the vastly different prosperous world shown in dramas seems akin to a “drug” for temporarily forgetting the difficulties of reality under the totalitarian government.

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Sally Reed

Written by Sally Reed

Sally, a dynamic and viral writer, has taken the literary world by storm with her exceptional storytelling prowess. With an uncanny ability to tap into the collective consciousness of her readers, she crafts narratives that resonate deeply and linger long after the last word is read.

Born with a creative spirit, Sally honed her writing skills from a young age, cultivating a unique voice that blends emotion, wit, and social insight. Her work spans a wide spectrum, from poignant short stories that tug at the heartstrings to thought-provoking essays that challenge conventional thinking.

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