(FILE PHOTO) A No. 10 checkpoint overlooking the Yalu River. The checkpoint is managed by the state security agency and blocks the main road leading to the border, mainly checking the IDs, travel documents and cell phones of passersby. A view from the Chinese side of the border across from Sokju County in North Pyongan Province. Taken in September 2023 (ASIAPRESS)

The North Korean government’s tight control of information through border closures during the COVID pandemic has left North Koreans in the dark about what is happening outside the country. In particular, in an effort to cut off the channels of outside information, repression against those who have family members who have defected to South Korea or Japan is intensifying day by day, according to an ASIAPRESS reporting partner. (JEON Sung-jun / KANG Ji-won)

◆ Outside information fails to seep into the country due to intense restrictions

As thirsty as the world is for information from inside North Korea, North Koreans are just as hungry for information from the outside. Based on reports from ASIAPRESS reporting partners in the northern part of the country, the North Korean government’s tight control of information has been somewhat successful in insulating the population from outside news.

"We don't hear anything about China, South Korea, or anything like that from the marketplaces or from people here. The only news we hear about is from Rodong Sinmun (the Workers' Party of Korea's official newspaper) in regards to China's economic development, the situation in Palestine, and things like that."

◆ Defector families live in fear due to regime suppression

"The regime is increasingly cracking down on North Korean defectors' families, especially on (their alleged involvement) in spreading rumors and using Chinese phones. The regime says they will not forgive defectors, and that they have already sinned (by defecting) and should be loyal to the country."

The reporting partner explained that the authorities keep defectors’ families under heavy surveillance, labeling them as potential criminals who bring in outside information. The government constantly harasses them in various ways, even conducting investigations aimed at entrapping them.

"Defector families live in fear because police officials visit them, arbitrarily call them into their offices, and investigate them. The police and state security agency send people to pry into their every move and disguise themselves as money transfer brokers to search for Chinese phones."

"North Korean families in areas far from the border are not allowed to be issued travel documents, and if they sneak near the border - regardless of whether or not they call (their family members in South Korea or Japan) - they are deemed attempted defectors and sent to jail."

Kim Jong Un's regime, which has used the COVID pandemic to tighten its grip on North Korean society and its people, has targeted the families of North Korean defectors as part of its efforts to stem the flow of outside information, which the regime considers its Achilles heel.

※ ASIAPRESS communicates with its reporting partners through Chinese cell phones smuggled into North Korea.

A map of North Korea (ASIAPRESS)