North Korea has been trumpeting its thawing relations with South Korea, with images of Kim Jong Un meeting his counterpart Moon Jae-in shown in state-controlled media. But that doesn’t mean its punishments will be any less harsh for citizens who dare to watch TV programs from across the border. People who commit that crime can still face prison, labor camp, or death, as police officials have been reminding residents during lectures in the South Hwanghae province this month.
Radio Free Asia recently reported on the lectures, in which officials demanded that residents “abstain from watching decadent video materials of capitalism … that have found their way in from the South,” according to one source.
Those materials can reach North Koreans in a variety of ways, including via black markets and even the skies above. South Korean activists have long used balloons to carry forbidden materials over the border. Those have included leaflets deriding North Korea’s government and USB flash drives loaded with South Korean soap operas. Such shows can reveal to North Koreans how much better off their southern counterparts are. Not surprisingly, the ruling regime in Pyongyang finds the balloons infuriating, and soldiers have shot them out of the sky.
North Koreans close to the border with South Korea can also receive broadcast signals from the south by manipulating frequencies on their TVs.
The police, in their lectures, have reminded people that anyone, regardless of their status, will be punished. In 2014, 10 officials of the ruling party were reportedly executed for watching South Korean soap operas.