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North Korea sentences teenagers to hard labour for watching K-Dramas


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North Korea has publicly sentenced two 16-year-old boys to 12 years of hard labour for watching South Korean dramas.

The incident, captured in footage obtained by BBC Korean, sheds light on the severe consequences individuals face for accessing foreign media.

The video, believed to be from 2022, shows the teenagers handcuffed in an outdoor stadium, surrounded by hundreds of students.

Uniformed officers reprimand the boys for their actions, emphasizing the severity of their “mistakes.”

South Korean entertainment, including television shows, is strictly prohibited in North Korea, with authorities imposing harsh penalties on those caught indulging in such content.

Despite the risks, some individuals are willing to face severe punishment to experience the globally popular K-dramas.

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The video is reportedly being circulated within North Korea for ideological education, cautioning citizens against consuming what authorities label as “decadent recordings.”

The narrator in the video repeats state propaganda, condemning South Korean culture.
“The rotten puppet regime’s culture has spread even to teenagers,” the voice asserts, referring to South Korea. “They are just 16 years old, but they ruined their own future,” it adds.

The unprecedented move involves naming the boys and revealing their addresses, a departure from past practices where minors involved in such offenses were sent to youth labor camps rather than facing extended prison sentences.

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In 2020, North Korea enacted a law making the watching or distribution of South Korean entertainment punishable by death.

This harsh stance reflects the regime’s fear that exposure to South Korean culture may weaken its ideological control over the population.

Choi Kyong-hui, CEO of the South and North Development (Sand), a research institute working with North Korean defectors, emphasizes that Pyongyang perceives the influence of K-dramas and K-pop as a direct threat to its ideology.

“Admiration for South Korean society can soon lead to a weakening of the system… This goes against the monolithic ideology that makes North Koreans revere the Kim family,” she explained.

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South Korean entertainment started reaching North Korea in the 2000s during the “sunshine policy” years, when South Korea provided economic and humanitarian aid to the North.

The policy ended in 2010, but the inflow of South Korean media continued through China.

North Korean defectors highlight the significance of South Korean dramas as a “drug” helping people escape the harsh reality of their lives.

The authorities in North Korea, however, view this cultural influence with suspicion, fearing it may challenge their narrative about living conditions in South Korea.