North Korea bans mobile phones from public propaganda lectures

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North Koreans are no longer allowed to bring their cell phones to propaganda lectures, which are a regular and mandatory part of life there, sources in the country say.

While no explicit reason has been given, the sources told Radio Free Asia they suspect the government wants to prevent them from recording and sending the content abroad.

Entering a public hall for a special study session discussing recent government policies, a resident of South Pyongan province said she had to give up her cell phone for the first time.

“The person who picked up the phones was the head of the Women’s Socialist Union of Korea,” said the woman, who insisted on anonymity for fear of reprisal. “She explained that this was to implement an order from the authorities to block mobile phones in any location where the party is holding a policy study session.”

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After the session, they got the phones back, she said.

Attendance at propaganda meetings is compulsory for all citizens. When Pyongyang wants to introduce a new policy, emphasize certain ideological views or spread a government-friendly narrative, citizens should gather in public halls or auditoriums and listen to a speech by a government official or watch a movie.

This is in addition to weekly neighborhood watch unit meetings or other meetings required for their government-assigned jobs.

Some questioned whether the ban was due to a special security period before leader Kim Jong Un’s birthday on January 8, while others complained it was just another way the authorities tried to control their lives.

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Privately, residents complained that there was nothing to leak to the public since the plenary session was public anyway.

“What is it about the party policy meeting that is so secretive that it requires the efforts and repeated struggle of the people?” said the source.

The mobile phone ban is not only for special study sessions, but also for regularly scheduled propaganda rallies, a source from the northeastern province of North Pyongan told RFA on condition of anonymity to speak freely.

Workers’ mobile phones were collected at one such routine meeting at the Rakwon Machine Complex, he said.

“This is the first time mobile phones have been recovered before entering a regularly held lecture by the party’s Propaganda and Agitation Department,” said the second source, adding that there was no statement as to whether the measure was temporary.

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“It seems that this measure will be continued in all colleges in the future,” said the source. “Residents criticize the behavior of the authorities, who they say are only concerned about day and night control over their lives.”

Translated by Claire Shinyoung Oh Lee. Written in English by Eugene Whong. Edited by Malcolm Foster.

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A man speaks on the phone outside the April 25 House of Culture, a venue of the Workers’ Party of Korea Congress in Pyongyang, North Korea. Credit: File photo from Reuters