(Photo) A man encounters a crackdown by security personnel on his way to take grain purchased in a farming village to the market. Photographed on the outskirts of Pyongyang City in August 2008 by Jang Jong-gil (ASIAPRESS).

◆ Can the Police Survive without Bribes?

The North Korean authorities have decided to strengthen punishments for corruption by social security officers (police officers) and provide more thorough ideological education. This is a strict policy not only to hold police officers accountable for corrupt acts such as demanding bribes but also to hold them jointly responsible for the bad behaviour of their family members. The aim is to tighten the grip of the state’s public security organs, however, the police have voiced their dissatisfaction and strong opposition (Kang Ji-won / ISHIMARU Jiro).

In late January, an ASIAPRESS reporting partner living in the northern region heard the following story from a policeman he knew well. Apparently, at a morning meeting in the Security Bureau on January 25, the policeman was informed that:

"Accepting bribes and undermining the authority of the governing body will not be tolerated. From now on, any corruption by security personnel will be severely punished, and the execution of duties will be strictly enforced. Furthermore, we will strengthen ideological and educational projects so that our people can trust us."

In North Korea, corruption has been common since the 1980s, with police officers taking bribes, ignoring illegal activities, or deliberately making arrests to extort money and goods from residents.

However, after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the nature of society has changed drastically. Coronavirus quarantine has become a top priority in all areas, with the police placed under the control of a new organization called the "Emergency Quarantine Command."

In addition, the "United Command for Non-Socialist Sweeping Operations" (from now on referred to as the 'Non-Socialist Command Department') was created to crack down on violations of social order. For this, it was given a more substantial authority than the Party, administrative officials, and police officers.

Regarding the corruption and misconduct of police officers, there is a system for residents to appeal to the Non-Socialist Command Department, but according to our reporting partner, "I have never heard of any case where a police officer was actually punished, and the number of bad police officers has not decreased."

This time, however, the state policy is much stricter.
"It was clearly announced at the meeting that any policeman who is reported to have misbehaved will be punished without mercy, including demotion, dismissal, and deprivation of party membership."


(Photo) A security guard is cracking down on people on the streets. Photographed in the suburbs of Pyongyang City in January 2011 by Kim Dong-chul (ASIAPRESS).

◆ Police officers' hardship

The treatment of police officers by the public has deteriorated recently. According to research conducted by our reporting partner in various areas, food rations, which used to be 100% provided for police until about a year ago, have been reduced since last year. Now only half a month's rations are available for police family members, although they are still available for police officers themselves.

The Social Security Department has its sub-industrial areas throughout the country, supplied with vegetables and other crops grown there. The problem is the cash income. The salary paid by the government is only a few thousand won. For reference, 1 USD is currently about 6,500 won.

Domestic toothpaste costs 10,000 won (about 1.53 USD) in the market. That's several months' worth of government salary. Police officers and other government officials have no choice but to commit corrupt acts to earn cash.

A police officer acquaintance of our reporting partner vented his frustration and anxiety as follows.

"The country doesn't even treat police officers decently, and yet we get assigned tasks from the top [to provide our own resources], such as providing the organization with gas money or cigarettes. And they tell us not to take bribes. So how are we supposed to live?"

◆ Family members' misbehaviour will not be tolerated either

It is not only police officers themselves who are subject to disciplinary measures. They will also be held jointly responsible for the misbehaviour of their family members.

For example, the act of watching illegal South Korean dramas. This had become secretly popular among police officers and party leaders' families who were in charge of cracking down.

"It is said that even police officers' family members have been informed that any non-socialist act will not be tolerated. There is a lot of fear and tension among the police officers, as they have to be careful not to be put under a microscope by the 'Coalition Command.'"

※ASIAPRESS contacts its reporting partners in North Korea through smuggled Chinese mobile phones.