This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
Authorities in North Korea are conducting a crackdown on illegal cellphone use after confidential information was reportedly leaked about North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s recent activities, local officials and traders told RFA’s Korean Service.
Illegal cellphones are believed to have been used to disseminate what were apparently sensitive details about Kim’s itinerary during his visits to Baekdu mountain and the Samjiyeon tourist zone earlier this month.
An official from Ryanggang province told RFA’s Korean Service Monday that once the leak occurred, authorities moved very quickly to find its source.
“The State Security Department’s censorship teams were dispatched to every organization and they found that the confidential information was passed to the outside world through illegal mobile phones. That’s when they started the crackdown,” said the source.
The source said that although the crackdown is intended to protect the safety of the Supreme Leader, it is also having an unintended impact on the lives people living along the border with China.
“It’s tense on the border. Smugglers who need to communicate with Chinese partners using their illegal phones, and phone brokers who make money with their illegal phones by arrange calls to defectors in South Korea, they instantly went into hiding,” said the source.
“Most of the illegal phone users have fled the area but the residents are afraid as the inspectors are making everyone feel uneasy,” the source added.
“This inspection is different from the normal routine inspections because it is related to the safety of the Supreme Leader, so people are naturally fearful.”
“The state security officials that the Central Committee dispatched are searching everywhere [for illegal phone users]. I have a feeling that something serious is about to go down,” said the source.
Another source, a resident of Ryanggang, said even border security has been affected over the leak.
“Border guards, who normally work with smugglers are tightening up security. It’s causing a temporary suspension of smuggled goods from China, and that’s hurting not only the smugglers, but also the merchants who specialize in the contraband they bring in,” the resident said.
“In the past, even [in tense situations], smugglers could still bribe the border guards to bring in their illegal goods, but now the situation is so serious that smuggling things across the river is just not happening,” the resident said.
“[Both] the smugglers and the guards are laying low because they don’t want to get into trouble until this tense political issue [is resolved,]” the source added.