North Korean Squid Game Smuggler Sentenced To Death After Students Caught Watching The Show

A startling report came out of Radio Free Asia (via Variety) yesterday, as a man who smuggled copies of the hit South Korean Netflix series "Squid Game" into North Korea has been sentenced to death by firing squad for the crime. RFA learned that the series was smuggled in from China on USB flash drives, and authorities first learned of the show's presence in North Korea after catching high school students watching the program. "Squid Game" is an outlawed program in North Korea in violation of their Elimination of Reactionary Thought and Culture act passed in December of 2020, which prohibits the dissemination and existence of media and entertainment deemed unacceptable. For the most part, this act was passed in an attempt to limit the spread of media influence from capitalist countries like South Korea and the United States.

Despite North Korea's best efforts, "Squid Game" has been spreading across the country through illegally sourced flash drives and SD cards. According to the RFA report, one of the students who bought the USB drive has received a life sentence, while six other students who were caught watching the show have been sentenced to five years hard labor. Teachers and school administrators have been fired from their jobs and now face the possibility of banishment to rural areas or forced to work in remote mines.

The Students Were Caught By A Dedicated Strike Force

A source from law enforcement in North Hamgyong province told RFA's Korean Service that the situation started last week after the high school student who secretly bought a USB flash drive of the show watched it with one of his best friends in class. Word quickly spread amongst the other students and the drive was shared with another group. The Surveillance Bureau Group 109 censors, the government strike force specializing in catching North Koreans illegally consuming banned media received a tip-off, and arrested the seven students. The arrest is the first time the Elimination of Reactionary Thought and Culture act has been applied to minors.

The authorities will be rigorously interrogating the students to get to the bottom of how "Squid Game" was smuggled in due to the current pandemic-related closed borders, and the fact Netflix isn't even available in China, the country where the alleged drives originated. However, China has provided reports of widespread pirating of the show. While the teachers and administrators were not directly involved in the watching of "Squid Game," the North Korean government is viewing the situation as a failure to monitor the students' activity and proof that their "education was being neglected." This has set a terrifying precedent for other educators in North Korea now worried their lives will be in jeopardy if their students are caught watching "Squid Game."

All Media Storage Is Now Under Scrutiny

North Korean authorities have now been investigating the markets for any memory storage devices and video CDs containing foreign media, according to a resident's testimony to the RFA. "The residents are all trembling in fear because they will be mercilessly punished for buying or selling memory storage devices, no matter how small," said a second source, who requested anonymity to speak freely with the RFA. It's not clear how widespread the butterfly effect of this "Squid Games" confiscation will ripple, but it's clear that those involved are being made an example by their government.

An additionally troublesome rumor has begun to spread surrounding the seven arrested students, with sources telling RFA that one of the students with wealthy parents has avoided punishment thanks to a $3,000 bribe to the authorities. If the rumor is true, it enforces the legitimate fear that money is the only way to keep residents out of harm's way, as even those sentenced to death can be released. It's almost proving the plot of "Squid Game," that those with money make the rules and keep the power.

Why is North Korea Banning Foreign Media?

One of the biggest motivating factors in establishing the Elimination of Reactionary Thought and Culture act was to curb the direct threat to the power of the Kim dynasty. If citizens are unaware that there are alternative ways of living outside the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, they are less likely to resist the government ruling. A report by the Washington Post from 2019 indicated that the music of K-Pop was influencing the youth of North Korea to flee the country and move to South Korea. Lee Kwang-Baek, president of South Korea's Unification Media Group (UMG) said that music was one of the factors in defectors' disillusionment with the North Korean government, but a survey of defectors also found that more than 90% had watched foreign media while in North Korea, with 75% knowing someone who had been punished for doing so. Additionally, 70% believed consuming foreign media had become more dangerous since Kim Jong-un took power in 2011.

However, last April, North Korean authorities publicly executed a man by firing squad in front of a crowd of 500 people for illegally distributing CDs and USBs with South Korean film, music, and television series on them, the same sentence given to the man responsible for the distribution of "Squid Game." To put things into perspective, that crowd contained 44 more people than the entire roster of players in "Squid Game." It's hard to find the words to express the equal levels of sorrow and terror that this news brings, but the trickle down impact of this situation will set a dramatically new standard on the tolerance for exploring foreign media in North Korea.