A police officer detains a woman on her bicycle in the street. The arrested woman is on the verge of tears. Photographed in January 2011 outside Pyongyang by Kim Dong-cheol (ASIAPRESS)

◆Public Denouncement Rallies Held Across the Country

At the end of last year, North Koreans were mobilized all across the country to attend “public denouncement rallies”. Once gathered at a stadium or other public venue, attendees bore witness to the pageantry of a mock trial and arrest. With police presiding over the spectacle, “criminals” were dragged on stage before 200-300 local residents and workers to be denounced for their crimes.

Among the criminals to be dragged on stage were drug dealers and, somewhat surprisingly, fortune-tellers. A local partner in Hyesan, who took part in one such rally last October, reported that, “1 man and 6 women were brought on stage to be condemned for ‘superstitious acts’ before they were handcuffed and dragged away.”

◆12-year prison sentences for fortune tellers

According to the local reporting partner, these fortune-tellers were sent to a correctional center in late December, where they have been ever since. In late January, the partner reported that, “1 of the fortune-tellers was sentenced to 12 years in prison. In addition, those who go to fortune-tellers’ houses to receive these ‘superstitious’ services are liable to be sentenced as well. Most are condemned to over 3 years of jail time.”

In North Korea, it is common to pay bribes in order to avoid arrest or prison time. However, it is said to be extremely difficult to escape punishment for crimes related to the ‘public denouncement rallies’.

According to the local reporting partner, it is not just fortune-tellers who have been receiving lengthy jail sentences lately. “Smugglers, fraudsters, and consumers of illegal entertainment have increasingly becomes targets of the police. The number of arrests has soared so dramatically that the families of arrested criminals are having to queue up at the police station in order to pay visits. With this recent uptick in arrests, these days people are more afraid of the local police than the secret police. There is more pressure than ever as criminals are now being taken away by armed police units.”
※ Foreign movies and dramas, such as those from South Korea, are strictly prohibited from being seen or sold as they are “impure”.
Next page: Is the strong enforcement a "side-effect" of recent inter-Korean dialogue?…