North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is tightening his authoritarian grip on civilian life in the country, with South Korean intelligence services reporting new measures designed to increase control over the population.
As well as information being more strictly controlled, gatherings involving singing, drinking and entertainment are now banned, the National Intelligence Service reported in a briefing to South Korean lawmakers Monday.
According to the intelligence officers, the move is meant to stifle the impact of crippling economic sanctions imposed by the international community in retaliation for the country’s ongoing development and testing of nuclear devices and ballistic missiles.
"(Pyongyang) has devised a system whereby party organs report people's economic hardships on a daily basis, and it has banned any gatherings related to drinking, singing and other entertainment and is strengthening control of outside information," the spy agency said, quoted in news agency Yonhap.
The move would mark yet another restriction on the lives of ordinary North Koreans, who already live in one of the world’s most repressive states. Travel abroad is heavily curtailed, conversations are routinely monitored and punishments imposed for possession of foreign media, including South Korean music and Chinese movies.
The ban comes a few months since the cancellation of the 2017 Pyongyang Beer Festival, which was slated for July following up on the reported success of the previous year, but was called off at the last minute amid report of drought in the country.
The South Korean intelligence agency also reported about rare punitive actions taken against top officials following an inspection of the military’s hugely influential General Political Bureau, an organ devoted to ensuring adherence to the ruling party line among the Korean People’s Army ranks.
According to the NIS, those punished included the powerful bureau’s chief Hwang Pyong So and his deputy Kim Won Hong. The scope of the punishment remains unclear but it may indicate a power struggle among Kim’s key aides.
The inspection was led by Choe Ryong Hae, the vice chairman of the ruling party’s Central Committee, whose son is reportedly married to Kim’s younger sister and who used to lead the military bureau before Hwang replaced him in May 2014.
"Under Choe's command, the Organisation and Guidance Department is undertaking an inspection of the military politburo for the first time in 20 years, taking issue with their impure attitude toward the party leadership," said lawmaker Kim Byung-kee after the NIS briefing, quoted in Reuters.
South Korean intelligence officers are also monitoring the North for signs of new missile launches to ratchet up the threats against the U.S. under the guise of space development.
“The agency is closely following the developments because there is a possibility that North Korea could fire an array of ballistic missiles this year under the name of a satellite launch and peaceful development of space,” they said.
As for nuclear tests, the agency saw no sign of imminent new experiments, although one of the tunnels at the Punggye-ri test site seems ready for use. "We forecast that depending upon North Korean leader Kim's determination, a nuclear test is possible any time," the agency said.
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