North Korea has publicly executed at least 10 people caught using Chinese mobile phone networks to communicate with the outside world, a report claims.
Dictator Kim Jong-un prohibits North Koreans from accessing mobile networks from neighbouring China to stop them from speaking to defectors and accessing outside information beyond his regime’s control.
It is said about 150 North Koreans were arrested after the country’s ruling party and secret police launched a fresh crackdown involving covert surveillance in March.
A source within North Korea said raids have continued and some of the offenders were executed in public as a gruesome deterrent, it is reported.
The claims were reported by Daily NK Japan, which cited a source in the province of Ryanggang, which borders China.
Arrests occurred during investigations into the smuggling of people and goods across the border, remittance brokers who arrange calls and money transfers, and those with links to defectors in South Korea.
North Koreans rely on smuggled phones and SIM cards to stay in touch with family and friends, and get help from the outside world. A four-year ban on mobiles was lifted in 2008, and the domestic network remains heavily restricted.
Another source told the website that the number of people being detained has “skyrocketed” since the end of May, as the country struggles with a worsening food shortage and soaring prices.
It is thought that 150 people were arrested in four provinces that border China in just three weeks.
State security officials are in charge of detecting phone signals, wiretapping devices and arresting users of illegal mobile phone networks.
Many who are arrested for the crime are sent to overcrowded political indoctrination centres as punishment, the report stated.
A source said: “The detention centre is full of people like a rabbit hutch. People are sitting next to the toilet.
“Family visits are denied and the detainees are losing hope.”
But 10 people – five in the county of Taehongdan County in Ryanggang and five in North Hamgyong province – were executed in public, a source claims.
It is thought about 20 others who went on public trial were spared the death penalty.
The report said the crackdown is expected to continue for months, as tall concrete walls and high-voltage wires are constructed in efforts to fortify the border.