People watching TV- illustration

This lockdown, the only thing which made people sane was watching movies/series and listening to songs. It gave us an outlet from the pandemic and let us reconnect with our 2019 normal lifestyle. Many of us, not only enjoyed multimedia content from our region, but from all over the world, thanks to OTT platforms which brought us home the world. But what we consider as trivial, is a crime for people of North Korea. The people of N Korea are legally not allowed to watch/listen to content from the rest of the world.

The story of Lee

On April 25, 2021, a man named Lee, was executed in front of a crowd of 500. In the crowd were his wife, son and daughter with dreadful eyes. The life in them draining away as they watched the life of Lee being taken away. His body, after execution, was loaded into a box and taken somewhere else. His wife, son and daughter were thrown into a cargo truck, as the life in them had already died.

Their neighbors watched all this misery with tears fighting to roll down from their sunken eyes and an invisible clot blocking their throats. They cannot cry. No. Then they may be charged for the crime of having compassion to a ‘reactionary’.

What kind of crime must have he committed that requires such a torturous punishment you may ask. The crime is selling of other country movies/music. 

Lee was a chief engineer at Wonsan Farming Management Commission. He was arrested 40 days prior to the execution for the selling of foreign films and music. He had reportedly confessed to selling USB sticks and CDs with foreign content for around $5-$12. The details of what happened during those 40 days is not known. But whatever happened during that period may definitely turn our stomachs inside out.

The execution of Lee was made to watch by his neighbourhood forcefully. If they didn’t, it was considered treason.

The ‘anti-reactionary’ law

The punishment for the selling or watching of foreign content was 15 years in labor or prison camp before Mr Kim introduced the new ‘anti-reactionary’ law.

The anti-reactionary law states the following actions illegal and may subject to prison time or death sentence:

  • Listening to foreign radio
  • Recording/distributing foreign radio broadcasts
  • Importing and distributing of foreign video content, books and music
  • Foreign published materials, including The Bible
  • Watching or reading of such foreign content
  • Possession of electronic device (tv, DVD players, mobile phones, computers) that has not undergone technical inspection
  • Saving images, e-books or music unapproved by the state on electronic device.

The state justifies the imposition of such laws by stating that ‘people may suffer delusions if they use them’.

Supreme leader of North Korea Kim Jong-un (middle)

The Right to Live is a luxury

The authorities of North Korea, in light of this event, said that before the law was imposed, such people were sent to ‘re-education’ camps. But not, after the law, they agree that ‘such reactionaries should not be allowed to live without fear in our society’.

It is allegedly reported that half of North Korean youths are held in such camps for using/selling of foreign content. These people are called as reactionaries or anti-socials and the anti-reactionary law was bought into effect last year by their dictator Kim Jong-un to eradicate such ‘antisocialist’ behavior.

In this modern era, while we are raising our concerns against climate change, equality and women’s rights, people of North Korea are not able to raise their voices for the right to even live. It is up to the rest of the world to help them find their voice. Not as a fellow country, but as a fellow human being.

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