Strict Mobile Phone Laws in North Korea

Sometimes we take for granted the freedoms and luxuries that we have in the place that we live. It becomes easy to complain about things like bad phone signal or delayed loading times for our favourite cell phone apps. There is nothing particularly wrong with this; we adjust to the reality of life where we live and demand more than what we have no matter where we are located. However, taking a look at places that may be less fortunate, can aid in putting things into perspective.

Strict Cell Phone Laws

North Korea has very strict laws about who can be called using a mobile phone in this country. Some of the rules that are in place include:

  • No international calls. People who are in North Korea are only allowed to make phone calls within the country. There are many reasons for this but the main reason is to prevent information about the state of life in North Korea from leaking out to the rest of the world. For example, it was reported in late 2008 that there was a crackdown on mobile phone use due to the fact that North Korea was experiencing a terrible food shortage. Authorities didn’t want the rest of the world to know or to try aid the area.
  • National calls may be restricted to the Pyongyang area. Even within the country, mobile phone calls may only be made within this particular area.
  • South Korea is particularly off limits. You aren’t allowed to make mobile phone calls from North Korea to other parts of the world but the punishment is going to be particularly bad if you are caught calling South Korea.
  • Residents sometimes try to use Chinese networks. Possession of Chinese mobile phones and use of Chinese phone networks is common along the North Korea-China border. This is strongly discouraged by the enforcement of strict regulation and punishment in this region. The biggest fear of the authorities here is that people in this area are trying to make calls in order to get assistance with sneaking over the border and out of the country.
  • Tourists who come to the area are forced to surrender their mobile phones. There are not too many people visiting North Korea. However, those that do should expect to be stripped of their cell phones upon arrival. The phones are sealed up and are only returned when the individual is about to leave the country. This can be a frightening experience for people who are used to carrying their mobile phones with them every day!

How Do The Authorities Find Out?

So how exactly do the authorities in North Korea find out if you are making illegal mobile phone calls? They monitor the use of cell phones. The lack of a broad network of coverage in the region makes it fairly easy for them to eavesdrop on calls. Additionally, there have been times when secret police officers would troll the borders looking for mobile phone use with the aid of cell phone signal detectors. When a signal is detected, they know that someone is illegally using a mobile phone in the area. Furthermore, it is reported that North Korean authorities have installed mobile phone signal jammers throughout border regions and high-density areas in order to completely prevent mobile phones from working. So, even where they don’t catch people, they may stop people from making those calls.

The Punishment is Death

Are you wondering what might happen to you if you violate the mobile phone laws in North Korea? Death by firing squad is one thing that happened recently to a North Korean man who was caught using his mobile phone to call a friend in South Korea. Among other things that happened during the call, the North Korean man complained about the situation in his country. He admitted this after an intense interrogation, after which he was found guilty of violating the country’s mobile phone laws and sentenced to death. He was killed by firing squad. Public executions still take place in North Korea and of course there is always the alternative of imprisonment for those lawbreakers who aren’t sentenced to death.

Mobile Service in North Korea Still Expanding

In spite of the fact that there are these strict laws about mobile phone use in North Korea, mobile phone service in the country is expanding rapidly. The mobile operator Orascom Telecom has been in operation there for only one year and already has 100,000+ subscribers. They expect to add several million more over the course of the next few years. They are installing advanced 3G networks in the area now. This growth is due to the fact that North Korea aims to be a strong economic contender in the world within the next few years. The country is aware of the fact that a mobile infrastructure is crucial to making this happen. There are even rumours that this will eventually lead to a loosening up on the strict laws and that even international calling might be allowed at some point in the future although it is unclear at this point if or how that will happen.

So What – What Does This Mean For You?

The truth of the matter is that you are probably not going to be spending time in North Korea anytime soon so you don’t really need to concern yourself with these laws. However, it can benefit you to take a moment to think about the mobile phone situation in places other than where you live. Next time that you are frustrated because your coverage is spotty or your service is slow or your network keeps dropping your calls, think about how much worse it could be. This doesn’t mean that you should fail to demand better service but you can take a breath before you do and remember that you’re pretty darn lucky.

3 thoughts on “Strict Mobile Phone Laws in North Korea

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