How Using a Cell Phone Got a North Korean Woman Arrested for Spying

How Using a Cell Phone Got a North Korean Woman Arrested for Spying

She was sent to a political prison camp, her family was exiled, and their house was confiscated.

The North Korean regime does not much care for its people using unauthorized cellular phones.

Last year, North Korea started cracking down harder on Chinese cell phones. While mobile phone hardware imports have been illegal in North Korea since the U.N. sanctions of 2017, some phones have found their way in regardless.

Regime authorities are known to have recently held lectures “emphasizing that people who use Chinese-made mobile phones will face punishment.” Those lectures made clear that those in North Korea “caught in the act talking on the phone with those in a foreign country” would face “five years of correctional labor.”

North Korea is believed to have a network that’s the equivalent of about 3G.

Now, there’s a new report that North Korea’s Ministry of State Security has arrested a woman for unauthorized phone use.

“North Korean authorities have apparently taken their sweeping operation against the use of Chinese-made mobile phones to the next level, instituting tough measures against offenders by confiscating their homes and exiling their families,” Daily NK reported this week.

The site’s source in North Hamgyong Province said that a woman in her 20s, known as Han, was placed under emergency arrest in Hoeryong in July.

“In the end, Han was recently sent to a political prison camp on charges of espionage, her family was exiled to a rural area and their house was confiscated,” the source said.

The source claimed that the woman had “handed over money to the family of a North Korean defector in early July,” which got her classified as a “remittance broker.” For that reason, she has been accused of espionage. The source claimed that when Han’s home was searched, authorities found “RMB 60,000 and USD 27,000,” indicating that she had been spying for South Korea.

“Frankly, it only depends on whether the Ministry of State Security decides to press charges,” Daily NK’s source said., “When you enter a Ministry of State Security interrogation room, the torture and violence is so bad you’ll confess even to things you didn’t do. How could a young woman in her 20s withstand the torture of the Ministry of State Security? It’s likely they got her to write a confession through violence.”

The story added that North Korea has been seeking to “mop up” illegal mobile phone use, an effort which has included stepping up the penalties.

“In the past, you could resolve this problem with connections or money, but recently, the authorities are responding to users of Chinese-made mobile phones in extraordinary fashion,” the source told Daily NK. “Now, locals are refraining as much as possible from contacting the outside world.”

Stephen Silver, a technology writer for the National Interest, is a journalist, essayist, and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.

Image: Reuters