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Report: North Korean Man Sentenced To Death For Smuggling Copies Of Squid Game

Students who viewed the show were sentenced to five years hard labor

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A still from Squid Game shows the guards walking up the staircases.
It’s illegal to own, watch, or distribute Squid Game in North Korea.
Screenshot: Netflix

Last week, Radio Free Asia reported that copies of Squid Game had been smuggled into North Korea on USB drives and SD cards. Now, according to RFA, a man who is said to have smuggled in the show has been sentenced to death by a firing squad.

Sources tell RFA that a North Korean student who purchased the USB drive has been given a life sentence, while six others who watched the show must serve five years hard labor. Teachers and administrators at the school have been fired, expelled from the Workers’ Party, and could end up being exiled to work in remote mines.

“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,” a source in law enforcement in North Hamgyong province is quoted as telling RFA’s Korean Service.

“The friend told several other students, who became interested, and they shared the flash drive with them.” Government censors received a tip, and the students were arrested.

Earlier this month, The Washington Post reported that a quote from state-run North Korean website saying Squid Game mirrors an “unequal society where the strong exploit the weak,” and shows the “beastly” character of the “South Korean capitalist society where mankind is annihilated by extreme competition.”

However, while a North Korean government mouthpiece might feel comfortable using the show to make digs at its southern neighbor, it is illegal for North Korean citizens to watch the show—or any South Korean TV program. International media, especially the influence of free-market South Korean culture, appears to be viewed as a threat to the ruling power in North Korea.

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Last year, the country passed legislation dubbed the “Law on the Elimination of Reactionary Thought and Culture,” which can result in the death penalty for watching, owning, or distributing media from capitalist countries such as South Korea and the U.S. “Law enforcement is not playing around with the new law, and they are fiercely trying to root out every instance of capitalist culture,” a source previously told RFA.

“But regardless of how strict the government’s crackdown seems to be, rumors are circulating that among the seven arrested students, one with rich parents was able to avoid punishment because they bribed the authorities with U.S. $3,000,” said another source.

“Residents are complaining that the world is unfair because if parents have money and power, even their children who are sentenced to death can be released.”

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Earlier this year, another man is believed to have been executed for violating the same legislation, selling illegal CDs and USBs filled with South Korea music and TV shows.