After Executing People for Watching TV Shows, North Korea Bans This Normal Human Reaction


If you’re in North Korea, it’s pretty unlikely you’re doing much laughing as it is. But for the next few days, you better ensure you don’t — else you’ll likely find yourself in prison.

According to Radio Free Asia, sources inside the repressive hermit kingdom say that during an 11-day period of mourning, residents cannot laugh, drink alcohol, cry if their relatives pass away or “engage in leisure activities.”

This is the latest repressive move by the regime of Kim Jong Un — and it’s yet another sign Pyongyang has no fear of the outside world. This has changed significantly from the country’s stance during Donald Trump‘s administration. And, while our relationship with the country wasn’t perfect back then, it was nowhere near as dysfunctional as it is now. (We’re bringing this blunt truth to readers — and you can help us in our fight by subscribing.)

According to RFA, the 11-day period is to mark the 10th anniversary of the passing of Kim Jong Il, Kim Jong Un’s father and the former leader of the communist nation.

While anniversaries of his death are usually marked with solemnity and a 10-day mourning period, the 10th anniversary is a significant one — meaning it’s taken far more seriously by North Korean party officials.

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“During the mourning period, we must not drink alcohol, laugh or engage in leisure activities,” said one of RFA’s sources, who lives in the northeastern border city of Sinuiju, just across from China.

“In the past many people who were caught drinking or being intoxicated during the mourning period were arrested and treated as ideological criminals. They were taken away and never seen again,” the source explained.

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“Even if your family member dies during the mourning period, you are not allowed to cry out loud, and the body must be taken out after it’s over. People cannot even celebrate their own birthdays if they fall within the mourning period.”

In addition, they said, any kind of grocery shopping is also prohibited on the day of Kim Jong Il’s death itself.

And if you think you can get away with chortling without the police finding out — that this is a toothless diktat imposed so that a despot can show off how arbitrary and capricious they can be with human rights without the world intervening — think again.

Another source, who lives in the southwestern North Korean province of South Hwanghae, said that the police wouldn’t just be on the lookout for people who aren’t bereaved enough. They’ll be foregoing rest to do it.

“From the first day of December, they will have a special duty to crack down on those who harm the mood of collective mourning,” the second source said. “It’s a month-long special duty for the police. I heard that law enforcement officials cannot sleep at all.”

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This source also said state-owned companies had been ordered to take care of the starving during the 11-day morning period.

“Social order and safety must be ensured, so companies are responsible for collecting food to give to residents and employees who cannot come to work due to food shortages,” the second source told Radio Free Asia

“Residents must also work together to help out the kotjebi,” the source added, referring to North Korea’s homeless.

“I just hope that the mourning period for Kim Jong Il will be shortened to one week, just like the mourning period for Kim Il Sung. Residents are complaining that the living are forced to mourn these two dead people to death.”

A third source described the kind of thing residents can expect to see to celebrate Kim Jong Il’s life — exhibits of his art and photography, a concert, an exhibition revolving around a flower named after the former leader and other “educational” events.

“The old soldiers’ lecture and propaganda team, made up of discharged military officers in their 50s and 60s, are visiting every factory, company and neighborhood watch unit to educate the people about Kim Jong Il’s hard work and dedication,” the third source said.

“Not long ago a female soldier who plays the accordion joined the team, and she sings songs and reads poems praising Kim Jong Il.”

A fourth source said that lectures and artistic productions had already begun.

“They came and sang songs praising Kim Jong Il and held a short lecture about his greatness and achievements,” she said.

“It would probably be a better idea to supply the residents with coal or firewood to get them through the winter rather than lectures and propaganda, which is really about as useful as a talking parrot.”

Good luck on that one. As we’ve seen recently, the Kim regime is much more concerned about micromanaging everyday life in the hermit kingdom, ensuring not a crack of sunshine — either in terms of mirth or entertainment — enters into the lives of its citizens.

It’s not just banning the ordinary human reaction of laughter. Last Wednesday, The New York Times reported that a human rights group believed at least seven people had been put to death for listening to or distributing K-pop music from South Korea.

A Nov. 23 Radio Free Asia report, meanwhile, said a North Korean man had been sentenced to death for having a copy of the popular South Korean drama “Squid Game” on a flash drive and selling copies of it. A high school student who purchased it, meanwhile, received a life sentence, and six others who watched it got five years of hard labor.

North Korea is also rattling sabers with its missile program again — and it could begin hanging around the neck of President Joe Biden’s administration like a millstone, the same way it did with the two presidents before him. Trump, at the very least, put the fear of the empyrean into the regime and got them to sit down at the table, unproductive though those talks ended up being. Obama’s isolation was much less productive.

But both of these approaches, divergent though they may be, beat what the current Oval Office holder is doing: nothing. There’s simply too much on Joe Biden’s radar for him to pay attention to a loose-cannon nuclear power that oppresses its people more thoroughly than any regime on earth. North Korea simply festers and metastasizes when it’s ignored, however. The abrogation of laughter — and the disappearance of citizens who cannot help but snicker — should be one of many warning klaxons going off regarding Pyongyang.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture