A man has been sentenced to death and at least seven others have been arrested amid the North Korean government’s crackdown on the popular Korean-language Netflix show “Squid Game,” the outlet Radio Free Asia reported, citing unnamed sources.
In the series, which has become a smash hit around the world, 456 people compete in children’s games — like “red light, green light” — for a prize worth roughly $38 million USD. Failure to win the games results in death.
The competitors are largely debt-ridden South Koreans, though one of them is a North Korea defector.
Sources told Radio Free Asia that a smuggler who brought a copy of “Squid Game” from China and sold USB flash drives of it in North Korea was sentenced to death by firing squad, while a student who bought one of the drives was sentenced to a lifetime of imprisonment, and six others accused of watching it received sentences of five years hard labor.
Radio Free Asia quoted a North Hamgyong province law enforcement source as detailing what happened.
“This all started last week when a high school student secretly bought a USB flash drive containing the South Korean drama Squid Game and watched it with one of his best friends in class,” the source told RFA’s Korean Service.
“The friend told several other students, who became interested, and they shared the flash drive with them. They were caught by the censors in 109 Sangmu, who had received a tipoff,” the source added. “109 Sangmu” refers to the “Surveillance Bureau Group 109,” a North Korean government division that enforces laws against illegal video-watching.
Recently, the single-party-ruled communist dictatorship passed a law called the “Elimination of Reactionary Thought and Culture,” and according to Radio Free Asia, this is the first time it has been enforced against minors.
“Residents are engulfed by anxiety, as the seven will be mercilessly interrogated until the authorities can find out how the drama was smuggled in with the border closed due to the coronavirus pandemic,” the law enforcement source told Radio Free Asia.
“It means that the bloody winds of investigation and punishment will soon blow,” the source added.
And those who smuggled and watched the video are not the only ones facing severe consequences, the source said.
“The government is taking this incident very seriously, saying that the students’ education was being neglected. The Central Committee dismissed the school principal, their youth secretary, and their homeroom teacher,” according to the source.
“They were also expelled from the party. It is certain that they will be sent to toil in coal mines or exiled to rural parts of the country, so other school teachers are all worrying that it could happen to them too if one of their students is also caught up in the investigation.”
Meanwhile, a resident of the North Hamgyong province said authorities are now cracking down on all sorts of foreign media.
“The residents are all trembling in fear because they will be mercilessly punished for buying or selling memory storage devices, no matter how small,” the source told Radio Free Asia.
The outlet reported earlier this month that “Squid Game” was resonating with North Koreans from various walks of life.
“‘Squid Game’ has been able to enter the country on memory storage devices such as USB flash drives and SD cards, which are smuggled in by ship, and then make their way inland,” a resident of the North Korean city of Pyongsong said.
Rich North Koreans “say that the content is similar to the lives of Pyongyang officials who fight in the foreign currency market as if it is a fight for life and death,” the resident said. “They think the show’s plot kind of parallels their own reality, where they know they could be executed at any time if the government decides to make an example out of them for making too much money, but they all continue to make as much money as possible.”
Many of the nation’s young people also reportedly like the show.
“It not only resonates with the rich people, but also with Pyongyang’s youth, because they are drawn to the unusually violent scenes. Also, one of the characters is a North Korean escapee and they can relate to her,” the source said.
“They secretly watch the show under their blankets at night on their portable media players.”