Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, but the government prohibited the exercise of these rights.
Freedom of Expression: There were numerous instances of persons interrogated or arrested for saying something construed as negative towards the government.
The constitution provides for the right to petition, but the government did not respect this right. For example, when individuals submitted anonymous petitions or complaints about state administration, the Ministries of People’s Security and State Security sought to identify the authors and subject them to investigation and punishment.
Press and Media Freedom: The government sought to control virtually all information; independent media does not exist. The government tightly controlled print media, broadcast media, book publishing, and online media through the Propaganda and Agitation Department. Within the department, the Publication and Broadcasting Department controls all media content, including content used on television, in newspapers, and on the radio. The government carefully managed visits by foreigners, especially journalists. More than 100 foreign journalists visited the DPRK in April to report on celebrations for Kim Il Sung’s birthday, but the government strictly limited their access.
Violence and Harassment: Domestic journalists had no freedom to investigate stories or report freely. During visits by foreign leaders, authorities permitted groups of foreign journalists to accompany official delegations and file reports. In all cases, the state strictly monitored journalists. Government officials generally prevented journalists from talking to officials or to persons on the street.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Strict enforcement of domestic media censorship continued, with no toleration for deviation from the official government line. The government prohibited listening to foreign media broadcasts except by the political elite, and violators were subjected to severe punishment. Radios and television sets, unless altered, are set to receive only domestic programming; officials similarly altered radios obtained from abroad. Elite citizens and facilities for foreigners, such as hotels, had access to international television broadcasts via satellite. The government continued attempts to jam all foreign radio broadcasts. Officials imprisoned and punished citizens for listening to foreign radio or watching foreign television broadcasts and, in some cases, for simply owning radio or television sets able to receive nongovernment broadcasts.
Internet access for citizens was limited to high-ranking officials and other designated elites, including selected university students. The Korea Computer Center, which acts as the North Korean gatekeeper to the internet, granted access only to information it deemed acceptable, and employees constantly monitored users’ screens. A tightly controlled and regulated “intranet” was reportedly available to a slightly larger group of users, including an elite grade school; selected research institutions, universities, and factories; and a few individuals. The NGO Reporters Without Borders reported some email access existed through this internal network. Government employees sometimes had closely monitored access to the internet and had limited, closely monitored access to email accounts. While the North Korean cell phone network is 3G-capable, most users’ data access is limited to a few state sanctioned functions through North Korea’s intranet such as reading the government newspaper.
In April 2016 the government formally announced it would block foreigners from visiting Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and South Korean websites. Nevertheless, some foreign journalists utilized social media from Pyongyang in February and April 2017.
South Korean media reports indicated an increase in cyber hacking by North Korea during the year. Specifically, international press reported that a January hacking attempt targeted defectors and advocates for North Korean human rights.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
The government restricted academic freedom and controlled artistic works. Curriculum was highly controlled by the state. The government severely restricted academic travel. The primary function of plays, movies, operas, children’s performances, and books was to buttress the cult of personality surrounding the Kim family and support the regime.
The state carried out systematic indoctrination through the mass media, schools, and worker and neighborhood associations. Indoctrination continued to involve mass marches, rallies, and staged performances, sometimes including hundreds of thousands of persons.
The government continued its attempt to limit foreign influence on its citizens. Listening to foreign radio and watching foreign films are illegal. Individuals accused of viewing or possessing foreign films were reportedly subjected to imprisonment and possibly execution. According to the 2016 KINU white paper, a 2015 survey revealed that defectors witnessed proclamations posted indicating that that those caught watching South Korean movies or listening to South Korean music would be sentenced to death, in accordance with instructions announced by the regime in 2013. According to the 2017 KINU white paper, the number of people executed for watching or distributing South Korean video content increased during the last few years.
Based on defector interviews conducted in 2015, InterMedia estimated as many as 29 percent of defectors listened to foreign radio broadcasts while inside North Korea and that approximately 92 percent of defectors interviewed had seen foreign DVDs in North Korea.
The government intensified its focus on preventing the import of South Korean popular culture, especially television dramas. According to media and NGO reports, in enforcing restrictions on foreign films, authorities authorized police to search homes for contraband DVDs. According to InterMedia, the government added a software-based censorship program known as the “signature system” to all domestic mobile phones. This system makes it impossible to view foreign media on the phones. Mobile phones are randomly inspected physically for illegal media, and a history of all activity on the device is available for export upon inspection through monitoring software called “TraceViewer.” Daily NKreported that Kim Jong Un created a special police unit to restrict and control the flow of outside information into the country.
FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY
While the constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, the government did not respect this provision and continued to prohibit public meetings not previously authorized and not under government control.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government failed to respect this provision. There were no known organizations other than those created by the government. Professional associations existed primarily to facilitate government monitoring and control over organization members.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The law provides for the “freedom to reside in or travel to any place”; however, the government did not respect this right. The government continued to control internal travel carefully. The government did not cooperate with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees or other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, forcibly returned refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons.
In-country Movement: The government continued to restrict freedom of movement for those lawfully within the state. Only members of a very small elite class and those with access to remittances from overseas reportedly had access to personal vehicles. A lack of infrastructure hampered movement, as did security checkpoints on main roads at entry and exit points from every town.
The government strictly controlled permission to reside in, or even to enter, Pyongyang, where food availability, housing, health, and general living conditions were much better than in the rest of the country. Foreign officials visiting the country observed checkpoints on the highway leading into Pyongyang.
Foreign Travel: The government also restricted foreign travel. The government limited issuance of exit visas for foreign travel to officials and trusted businesspersons, artists, athletes, academics, and workers. Short-term exit papers were available on a very limited basis for some residents to visit with relatives, undertake short-term work opportunities, or to engage in small-scale trade.
Exile: The government reportedly forced the internal exile of some citizens. In the past, it forcibly resettled tens of thousands of persons from Pyongyang to the countryside. Sometimes this occurred as punishment for offenses and included those judged to be politically unreliable based on the social status of their family members.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Refoulement: The government did not allow emigration, and reports stated that it increased its severe, tight security on the border, dramatically limiting the flow of persons crossing into China without required permits. NGOs reported strict patrols and surveillance of residents of border areas and a crackdown on border guards who may have been aiding border crossers in return for bribes.
In September 2016 international press reported China constructed a new facility to detain North Koreans without proper documentation. News reports in 2015 stated the DPRK had erected additional barbed-wire fencing on its side of the Tumen River.
The government maintained orders to shoot to kill those attempting to leave without official permission. NGOs reported that Kim Jong Un called for stricter punishments for those suspected of illegal border crossing. The law criminalizes defection and attempted defection. Individuals, including children, who cross the border with the purpose of defecting or seeking asylum in a third country are subject to a minimum of five years of “labor correction.” In “serious” cases, the state subjects asylum seekers to indefinite terms of imprisonment and forced labor, confiscation of property, or death. Many would-be refugees returned involuntarily from foreign states received imprisonment under harsh conditions. Some sources indicated authorities reserved particularly harsh treatment for those who had extensive contact with foreigners, including those with family members resettled in South Korea.
According to the 2017 KINU white paper, a defector reported that a 16-year-old victim of human trafficking in China was forcibly returned in 2014 and subsequently died due to malnourishment during a MSS investigation.
Past reports from refugees noted the government differentiated between persons who crossed the border in search of food (who might be sentenced only to a few months of forced labor or in some cases merely issued a warning) and persons who crossed repeatedly for “political” purposes (who were sometimes sentenced to harsh punishment, including death). This included persons who had alleged contact with religious organizations based on the Chinese border. The law stipulates a sentence of up to two years of “labor correction” for the crime of illegally crossing the border.
Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection for refugees. The government did not grant refugee status or asylum. The government had no known policy or provision for refugees or asylees and did not participate in international refugee fora.