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North Korea offers rewards for citizens reporting on illegal activity

A North Korean police car in Pyongyang in 2012. (Laika ac/Wikimedia Commons)
April 05, 2019

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

North Korea’s government has announced it will offer rewards for reports on illegal activity in an effort to more closely monitor its citizens. But rather than motivating the people to snitch on each other, many are resentful of the idea, sources told RFA’s Korean Service.

“The provincial police department had a meeting on Mar. 24 where they announced that they would start paying rewards to those who report illegal phone users, those who complain about the state or its government, smugglers and drug users,” said a source from Ryanggang province in an interview with RFA’s Korean Service on Saturday.

“People who want to get the rewards can file reports and [the government can then] eliminate people filled with discontent,” the source said.

“The results of that meeting were delivered to the public through police stations in each city, county and district,” the source said, adding, “Rewards can range from 50,000 to 300,000 North Korean Won (about $6 to $7).”

The source indicated that this idea had been tried in the past but was not very popular.

“It did not work out well. The state can’t even guarantee basic living conditions for the people, and the people can’t make their own living without breaking the law, so why would anyone want to report on anyone else?” said the source.

The source said that the rewards are part of a government effort to discourage resentment over the current economic conditions brought on by U.S. and U.N. sanctions, which has made life difficult for everyone.

The sanctions are aimed at depriving the regime of resources it could use to support its nuclear and missile programs.

“The government is aware of resentment of how [Kim Jong Un] has handled [the economy], so the Central Committee plans to use the reward system to eliminate those people who are openly dissatisfied with the state,” the source said.

A second source, from North Hamgyong province, agreed that the reward system was a government ploy to discourage dissent.

“Since the [failure in] the recent summit with the U.S. in Vietnam and the parliamentary election [where voters could choose only one candidate], the people are really disillusioned, and are expressing their thoughts publicly,” the source said.

“[That’s why] they came out with the reward system to maintain social order and to keep the complainers quiet ahead of the Day of the Sun, [a national holiday that falls on the birthday of North Korea’s founding father Kim Il Sung, on Apr 15,]” said the source.

The source said that some believe the implementation of this reward system indicates internal friction within the regime.

“Some residents think there is a security risk or a serious internal situation going on,” the source said. “They usually start giving out these kind of rewards when there’s an important national matter.”

“It can only mean there’s increased anxiety here,” the source said.

North Korea routinely uses its people to keep each other in line. The local government assigns every citizen to an inminban (neighborhood watch unit), in which members are responsible for monitoring each other for any sign of political disobedience or criminal acts.

On top of that, each citizen must meet weekly for sessions known as “saenghwal chonghwa,” a group activity in which each citizen must confess individual shortcomings, then hear additional criticism from peers.

An RFA report from mid-March described how saenghwal chonghwa was becoming more strict and invasive following the failed summit with the U.S.

Reported by Jieun Kim for RFAs Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.