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The story of one victim of North Korea’s informant system

In early February 2023, a young woman knelt in a cell at a police station in Haeju, South Hwanghae Province, her hands cuffed through the iron bars. The detainee was Jeong-im (a pseudonym), a student at a teacher training college in Haeju.

Jeong-im had been picked up by police after a friend-turned-informant had snitched on her, lured by the promise of officials not to prosecute her if she confessed and turned in a friend.

As more people watch and share foreign videos, North Korean authorities have launched a sweeping crackdown on the practice, using harsh disciplinary measures to instill fear.

But the authorities have offered a carrot to go along with this stick-they promise to pardon anyone who confesses to their crimes and turns in their accomplices. This cunning scheme to create informants takes advantage of the natural fear of being arrested and punished.

Jeong-im, who majored in music in college, had been giving dance and singing lessons to children after class to pay for her living expenses and tuition. She was so good at singing, dancing, and playing the accordion that she was much sought after by parents of school-age children.

But then her university announced that for one month, anyone who admitted to watching, purchasing, or distributing foreign videos would be completely forgiven. The announcement prompted several students to admit to watching foreign videos, including Jeong-im’s friend.

When the friend admitted to watching videos of South Korean singing and dancing, she was pressured to name someone else, and she ended up naming Jeong-im. As a result, the music student was arrested by the police and found herself in a terrible situation.

Jeong-im’s fate was sealed when her friend-turned-informant told the police that Jeong-im was the most popular singing and dancing private tutor in Haeju and that she secretly watched South Korean videos to improve her skills. The friend said that she had only watched South Korean videos with Jeong-im twice, but that Jeong-im seemed to watch them regularly.

When Jeong-im was brought in by the police, she admitted that she had watched South Korean videos with her friend-turned-informant twice, but insisted that she did not watch them regularly and did not use them to improve her skills.

However, the police investigators did not believe Jeong-im. Instead, they forced her to stand in the cell with her hands cuffed through the bars for five days in a row, without giving her a drink of water or even a grain of corn to eat, while pressuring her to confess to her crimes.

The last straw

The frustration and injustice of it all wore Jeong-im down until late one night, while everyone was asleep, she bit off her own tongue. The prison guards found her unconscious and rushed her to the hospital, which caused an uproar at the Haeju police station.

Fortunately, Jeong-im regained consciousness at the hospital. When a police investigator asked her why she had mutilated herself, Jeong-im wrote on a piece of paper, “I thought it was pointless to speak if they would continue to harass me and ignore me even if I told the truth.”

Hospital workers who heard about Jeong-im’s situation and people who heard about it from hospital workers expressed their sympathy and imagined how frustrated she must have felt. Several people criticized the police for being so focused on arresting and punishing people that they incited people to inform on their friends and pressured people to confess to things they had not even done.

Translated by Annie Eunjung Kim. Edited by Robert Lauler.

Please send any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

Read in Korean

February 20, 2024 at 05:02AM

by DailyNK(North Korean Media)

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