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N. Korea orders confiscation of all cell phones owned by Russia-based workers

The North Korean government has ordered the confiscation of all cell phones owned by workers in Russia, Daily NK has learned. As the North steps up its surveillance and control of workers there, it is also cooperating with Russia to prevent defections.

The North Korean consulate in Russia received orders [from the North Korean government] in late April to confiscate unauthorized cell phones in the possession of workers there,” a source in Russia told Daily NK on Apr. 26, speaking on condition of anonymity.

According to the source, North Korean workers usually have colleagues from Russia or other countries help them acquire cell phones for use during their time in the country.

In Russia, cell phones that can both make calls and go online are readily available in markets and shops and can be used as long as one has a SIM card.

While North Korean workers overseas are not allowed to have personal cell phones, most of their managers had looked the other way, treating phone ownership as routine behavior.

“Even overseas, North Korean workers have no freedom of movement and have to work all day. The only thing they can look forward to is loading YouTube on a cell phone with Internet access to watch the news or South Korean movies, TV shows and variety programs,” one defector who worked in Russia told Daily NK.

Some North Korean overseas workers have attempted to defect after using their cell phones to access overseas news programs about North Korea that they could not watch at home and learning that the regime’s propaganda is a lie. Cell phones are also a crucial tool for contacting the brokers who help them defect.

Given their understanding of these factors, the North Korean authorities appear to have ordered the total confiscation of cell phones informally held by overseas workers in order to prevent these workers from becoming disloyal to the regime and its ideology.

Workers are also facing more restrictions on movement

The source also said that Russian security guards have recently been seen standing guard at construction sites where North Koreans are working.

“North Korean workers used to be allowed to visit nearby markets or restaurants on Sunday, which is their day off. But they aren’t even allowed to leave the workplace anymore. Russian security guards patrol the surroundings, making sure that North Korean workers don’t leave for an instant,” the source said.

As North Korea and Russia improve ties, the two countries appear to be cooperating more closely than ever on projects aimed at monitoring and controlling North Korean workers in Russia.

“North Korea regards defection attempts by workers in Russia as a serious issue. It’s tightening controls to ensure that defections don’t happen under any circumstances and has arranged with the Russian police and intelligence agencies to arrest anyone caught leaving their jobsite or defecting and to immediately contact North Korea’s state security agency,” the source said.

Translated by David Carruth. Edited by Robert Lauler. 

Daily NK works with a network of sources living in North Korea, China, and elsewhere. Their identities remain anonymous for security reasons. For more information about Daily NK’s network of reporting partners and information-gathering activities, please visit our FAQ page here.

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April 30, 2024 at 08:00AM

by DailyNK(North Korean Media)

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