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North Koreans using mobile phones to be punished as ‘war criminals'

When Kim Jong-il died on December 17 last year, many hoped that it might mark the beginning of a less bleak future for North Korea. In a country with no political plurality, where the average monthly income is around $15 USD, where all popular culture and media are geared towards the glorification of the country’s leadership, and where contact with the outside world is more or less unheard of for the citizenry, hope for a better way of life is certainly understandable.

North Korea's new leader, Kim Jong-un, seems keen to preserve the legacy of his father, Kim Jong-il (above)

But the installation of the former leader’s son, Kim Jong-un, as the new overlord of the risibly-named Democratic People’s Republic of Korea will apparently yield no such relief for the country’s beleaguered populace. Now, as the official 100-day mourning period for Kim Jong-il’s passing continues to crawl by, The Telegraph reports that a new threat has been issued to the people of North Korea - any citizen who dares to use a mobile phone during the mourning period will be punished as a ‘war criminal’.

The edict comes as thousands of North Koreans are defying the will of the ruling Workers’ Party, leaving behind the oppressive state and fleeing across the border to South Korea in the hope of building a better life there. Such defiance is a very real concern to North Korea’s leadership, who have witnessed popular uprisings in Middle East nations that have succeeded in crushing similarly oppressive regimes.

The ban on cell phone use is a desperate attempt to prevent North Koreans from getting any wild ideas about regime change. In May of last year, the government confiscated thousands of phones after witnessing the Arab Spring; authorities also routinely monitor any international calls to ensure that information shared outside of the country does not contradict the official government version of events.

In late 2008, CNET reported on claims that the government had restricted mobile phone usage and intimidated citizens, threatening them with public executions, in order to prevent them from making international calls that might reveal to the world the extent of a severe food shortage in the country.

Sadly, for the people of North Korea, the outlook remains just as bleak today as it did under the last guy.

Image: © 2004 Paramount Pictures. All rights reserved.

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