This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
North Korea is offering amnesty to citizens who have sold propaganda lecture publications to buyers in South Korea, but only if they turn themselves in by the end of the month, sources in the country told RFA.
Citizens in North Korea are frequently made to attend lectures either at their workplace or in their neighborhood watch units. The purpose of the lectures can range from glorifying the leadership to reinforce loyalty, explaining the government’s stance on world events, educating the public about new government policies or initiatives, or justifying unpopular ones.
To ensure uniformity in lectures given nationwide, they use official materials provided by the Propaganda and Agitation Department.
Occasionally, copies of the materials end up in South Korea, which is a problem because they could be used by organizations, media, or intelligence to gain accurate information about the North, or could be used to show how the government keeps its people in the dark.
Authorities are now telling people who leaked lecture materials in the past that they will be forgiven if they come clean now.
A resident of Songchun in South Pyongan province, north of the capital Pyongyang, said authorities in the city recently lectured people on the policy.
“The meeting was hosted by a local official of the State Security Department, and the main topic was that citizens who have had communication with ‘hostiles’ should surrender,” the source told RFA Korean Tuesday on condition of anonymity for security reasons.
The source said that “close communication with hostiles” specifically refers to citizens who use brokers who can contact people in South Korea by using a Chinese mobile phone near the Sino-Korean border.
“They hand over the publications of the Propaganda and Agitation Department, including lecture materials, to South Korea,” he said.
“The amnesty period is until the end of this month. The authorities promised that those who turn themselves in during this period would be forgiven of their charged crimes,” the source said.
If they are caught after the amnesty period ends, punishment will be harsh, according to the source.
“The authorities threatened that if the residents do not turn themselves in during the surrender period, they and their family members would be sent to a political prison camp,” he said.
The amnesty is only available to ordinary citizens, according to the source. Government officials guilty of handing over lecture materials to the South are not to be forgiven, he said.
At a similar meeting in North Pyongan province’s Ryongchon county, which borders China, the lecturer said those turning themselves in would need to expose others, a source there told RFA on condition of anonymity to speak freely.
“[They] would have to reveal which party officials they contacted to steal lecture materials and learning materials,” the second source said.
“Residents are very nervous, arguing that the authorities may be using self-defense and mercy as bait to purge party officials,” he said.
Sources say that authorities tend to offer amnesty to citizens for “non-socialist behavior” whenever there is a tense situation inside or outside the country, or when public sentiment is low.
The amnesty is always coupled with threats to more harshly punish those who did not turn themselves in, they said.