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It is well known that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (the DPRK) is a closed country – a hermit kingdom – where the government continuously and unceasingly censors and restricts information flow in and out of the country. Finding unbiased information on the lived reality of North Koreans is therefore exceptionally difficult, and accessing official documentation and reports on intranet/internet access, and the consequences thereof, is virtually impossible.
Because of this information blockade in and out of the country, foreign actors’ reports and defectors’ testimonies are currently the most reliable sources regarding internet rights and shutdowns in the DPRK.

Furthermore, it has to be specified that in the DPRK, the internet is subordinate to the domestic intranet, the Kwangmyong. When discussing the global internet in the DPRK, we’re discussing a few selected individuals who are granted special, and monitored, access from the state for specific reasons, such as research or diplomatic issues. While the Kwangmyong is also highly restricted and only accessible for a scarce few, it is a lot more common than the global internet, and therefore the main focus for this report, although the internet will also be discussed. Having its own intranet increases the government’s ability to monitor users’ activities, restrict available content, and keep foreign actors in the dark of what the Kwangmyong actually contains. Monitoring who has access both to the internet and intranet cements the state’s control over its citizens and their access to information, which is why they keep the number of individuals with network access down to a selected few.

Juxtaposed to other nations where internet suppression stems from censorship of existing information and existing platforms, one defector confessed in an interview with PSCORE that “I personally think there is no internet in North Korea”, demonstrating that regular citizens are not even aware of the existence of internet in the country.2 For the few residents who are both knowledgeable and able to access the Kwangmyong intranet the actual content is heavily restricted with foreign media being banned and the act of accessing foreign media being punishable by death by a new law the DPRK government passed in December 2020 called “the Reactionary Ideology and Culture Rejection Law”. The law criminalises attaining, owning, distributing, or being influenced by foreign media content. Article 27 of the law declares the distribution of videos, movies, or songs from South Korea is punishable by an indefinite period of “reform through labor”, or death. This means that the scarce few who have the technological possibility to access foreign media through the internet may face capital punishment for accessing it.

Read the full report below:

PSCORE Report on Internet Shutdowns and Human Rights in the DPRK