A rare North Korean video shows teenagers sentenced to 12 years of hard labor for watching South Korean ‘K-dramas’


The video, provided to the BBC, appears to have been filmed in 2022 and shows two boys in grey uniforms being handcuffed on a stage while hundreds of children watch silently in what seems to be a stadium.

In North Korea, viewing or distributing foreign media, especially from South Korea, is considered a serious offense.

Per the BBC, the narrator of the video says about South Korea: “The rotten puppet regime’s culture has spread even to teenagers.”

“They are just 16 years old, but they ruined their own future,” it says.

It is rare to see videos like this as North Korea prohibits the release of images depicting life within the country. However, it has been distributed within the nation to caution citizens against viewing “decadent recordings,” the BBC reported.

North Korea enacted a draconian law, called “Reactionary Thought and Culture Denunciation” law in 2020 that made watching or distributing entertainment from “enemy countries” punishable by a prison sentence or even death.

The law also outlaws international cellphone services and even speaking South Korean slang.

K-dramas have increasingly found a worldwide fan base with high-quality storytelling hits like Squid Games and All of Us Are Dead, about a zombie virus outbreak at a South Korean high school. They are illicitly viewed by people in North Korea who manage to acquire them on CDs, VHS Tapes, streaming services, and DVDs.

“In North Korea, we learn that South Korea lives much worse than us, but when you watch South Korean dramas, it’s a completely different world,” a young North Korean defector told the BBC.

The video was shared with the BBC by the South and North Development (SAND), a research institute that works with defectors from North Korea.

The institute’s CEO, Choi Kyong-hui, said that Pyongyang perceived its citizens consuming South Korean entertainment as dangerous.

“Admiration for South Korean society can soon lead to a weakening of the system. This goes against the monolithic ideology that makes North Koreans revere the Kim family,” she told the BBC.

One North Korean defector told the BBC that punishment is harsher for watching South Korean media compared with other foreign media.

“If you get caught watching an American drama, you can get away with a bribe, but if you watch a Korean drama, you get shot,” they said.