By Yoon Ja-young
A North Korean teenager was reportedly sentenced to 14 years' forced labor for watching just five minutes of a South Korean film.
Daily NK, a media outlet specializing in news about North Korea, recently reported that a middle school student in Hyesan, a North Korean city bordering China, was sentenced to 14 years in a labor camp for watching the South Korean film "The Man from Nowhere." It cited a source in North Korea's Yanggang Province who reported that the 14-year-old was caught five minutes into watching the movie.
North Korea has been strengthening penalties on consumption of South Korean popular content, introducing a law last year which stipulates that those who watch, listen to, or keep South Korea's film, recordings, edited material, books, songs, drawings, or photos are subject to between five to 15 years of forced labor.
The news outlet noted that while the law doesn't specifically mention penalties for teenagers the convicted teenager was sentenced as an adult. It added that this appears to reflect the regime's intention to warn its people that even teenagers will face the full force of the law.
It noted that the teenager's parents could also face punishment as another law calls for penalties on "irresponsible" educational efforts, which could result in young people committing crimes. It cited a case in Sinuiju in February, in which a teenager was reportedly sent away with his parents to a rural area after he was caught watching pornography at home.
Radio Free Asia also reported last month that a man was sentenced to death for smuggling and selling copies of "Squid Game" after seven high school students were caught watching it.
According to the White Paper on Human Rights in North Korea 2021 published by the Korean Institute for National Unification, a number of North Korean defectors testified that it was routine for those found to be distributing South Korean dramas to be executed by firing squad. The report is based on in-depth interviews with 50 defectors.
The white paper stated, "Many defectors consistently testified that discreet viewing of South Korean dramas, movies, and other recordings is becoming widespread. They purchase cheap recording devices from China and secretly sell or pass along recordings."
"Most North Koreans who experience South Korean recordings respond with both admiration for South Korea and a negative perception toward North Korea. In some cases, envy of South Korea's economic affluence and freedom in everyday life leads to defection," it added.