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A rare North Korean video shows teenagers sentenced to 12 years of hard labor for watching South Korean 'K-dramas'

By Alia Shoaib

January 20, 2024

  • A video shows two North Korean teenage boys being sentenced to hard labor for watching K-dramas.

  • In North Korea, it is a serious offense to consume foreign media, especially South Korean media.

  • The video shows two boys being handcuffed in front of hundreds of students.

Rare video footage shows two teenage boys being sentenced to 12 years of hard labor for watching "K-dramas," or South Korean TV shows.

The video, provided to the BBC, appears to have been filmed in 2022 and shows two boys in gray uniforms being handcuffed on a stage while hundreds of children watch silently in what seems to be a stadium.

In North Korea, viewing or distributing foreign media, especially from South Korea, is considered a serious offense.

The BBC said the narrator of the video says about South Korea: "The rotten puppet regime's culture has spread even to teenagers."

"They are just 16 years old, but they ruined their own future," it says.

It is rare to see videos like this because North Korea prohibits the release of images depicting life within the country. But the nation has distributed it internally to caution citizens against viewing "decadent recordings," the BBC reported.

North Korea enacted a draconian law called the "Reactionary Ideology and Culture Rejection Act of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea" in 2020 that made watching or distributing entertainment from "enemy countries" punishable by a prison sentence or even death.

The law also makes international cellphone services and speaking South Korean slang illegal.

K-dramas have increasingly found a worldwide fan base with high-quality storytelling hits, including "Squid Game" and "All of Us Are Dead," which is about a zombie-virus outbreak at a South Korean high school. They are illicitly viewed by people in North Korea who manage to acquire them on CDs, VHS tapes, streaming services, and DVDs.

"In North Korea, we learn that South Korea lives much worse than us, but when you watch South Korean dramas, it's a completely different world," a young North Korean defector told the BBC.

The South and North Development, a research institute that works with defectors from North Korea, shared the video with the BBC.

The institute's CEO, Choi Kyong-hui, said that Pyongyang perceived its citizens consuming South Korean entertainment as dangerous.

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

One North Korean defector told the BBC that punishment is harsher for watching South Korean media compared with other foreign media.

"If you get caught watching an American drama, you can get away with a bribe, but if you watch a Korean drama, you get shot," they said.


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