Smugglers offer information to North Koreans deprived of alternative media


Widely recognised as one of the most repressive states for civic freedoms in the world, the North Korean authorities tightly control all avenues for dissent. Frequently rated as the worst country in the world for freedom of expression, those who dare to even try and access non-state media can face dire consequences. Despite the risk, a few brave activists still attempt to smuggle banned media into the country from South Korea. As previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, a black-market of contraband news is often the only source of more objective and independent information on the situation in the country as well as outside it. 

Civil society groups, such as the Seoul-based North Korea Strategy Centre, have established networks to illegally import USB drives with media resources to North Korea. The Centre estimates that between 10,000 and 20,000 USBs have made it across the border and into North Korea in 2016 alone. The risk is great, however, as those caught smuggling the information into the country have faced detention, torture and even death. 

The regime's prohibition on independent information from the outside world prevents citizens from fully exercising their right to freedom of the press and to access information. But there is reason to hope that the situation can improve, as the networks of smugglers bringing information into the country are key in helping citizens' access alternatives to state-controlled media. 

In a recent interview, a former news smuggler spoke out about his experiences of covertly importing news, films and documentaries into North Korea. Even after witnessing the public execution of other smugglers, Lee Hyon Woo continued to import illegal content from across the border from South Korea and China. In his interview, he spoke of the potential impact the information can have on changing the society: 

"The North Korean regime views foreign USBs, CDs, and radio broadcasts as mortal threats of the highest danger. If the regime has to murder a million residents to prevent foreign information from spreading, they will do so. Despite this, the distribution of South Korean content in the North is already provoking social changes. North Korea will be democratised". 
Tags: censorship