In secretive North Korea, technologies are mostly used for military purposes and cellular network is a luxury. The country is still believed to use a 3G network that has long been abandoned by developed countries. But even then, North Korea's six million people, who use mobile phones to communicate with the outside world, are now being forced to hand over their devices as Kim Jong Un's regime has started a crackdown.

The main reason behind that is to restrict the flow of information to and from the country. To enforce that, authorities revised its criminal law in 2015 and added Article 22 which made it illegal to engage in international communication. It also provided a regulatory basis to punish people for using mobile phones, not authorized by the government. As per the law, a convict can face up to five years of correctional labor and up to a year of disciplinary labor.

Kim Jong Un
North Korean authorities have been cracking down on Chinese-made mobile phones Twitter

New Crackdown

However, with an increase in the smuggling in the Chinese bordering towns, North Korean authorities started a crackdown on mobile phones made in China in October. Now, it seems that the authorities are adamant in prohibiting any communication with the outside world. In a recent lecture to the members of the Socialist Women's Union of Korea in Yanggang province, authorities warned that using Chinese-made mobile phones would lead to unconditional punishment.

"Recently, with remittance brokers continuing to get busted in border cities, the labor bureau of the provincial party committee has begun bringing them under control," a source, who didn't want to be named due to security risks, told Daily NK.

The lecturer said that people who had been caught in Pochon and Taehongdan regions would face punishment, adding that "people who are hiding devices should voluntarily report themselves." "Everyone should remember that if a national secret appears in even a single utterance, you are allowing [that secret] to leave the country," the lecturer threatened.

North Korea
People caught using Chinese-made mobile phones face up to five years in prison Wikimedia Commons

Area Under Surveillance

Yanggang province which shares the borders with China has regularly been under strict surveillance. The bordering areas are gateways for people to escape the brutal dictatorship and a chance to live a better life. With a slow and poor cellular network in other inner areas of North Korea, citizens can only access their phones once a month. Hence, border areas like Yanggang offer a better chance to connect to Chinese cellular networks and make calls to people outside the nation.

"Cellular traffic has fallen so much that people with Chinese-made devices say they only check the devices once a month," the source said, adding that it has reduced the international phone calls drastically.

North Korean authorities have been irked by that and have regularly cracked down on such activities and have made regular arrests — all for making calls to the outside world. "Massive inspections – and resulting firings and transfers – began at customs houses this autumn, which has meant that smuggling over the border has slowed even further," the source said, adding that now the government wants to root out all illegal callers.