North Korean Sentenced to Death for Smuggling Squid Game

Squid Game Screenshot/Netflix/Youtube
Squid Game/Netflix

North Korea banned South Korea’s international hit TV show Squid Game, but it still became popular with North Koreans thanks to bootleg video. Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported Tuesday that the communist regime sentenced a man to death for smuggling USB flash drives containing Squid Game episodes into North Korea.

Squid Game is a gruesome over-the-top satire of heartless capitalism: desperate people participate in an underground game show where the prize is a huge pot of money, but the penalty for losing various children’s games is instant death. One of the more sympathetic participants in this bizarre contest is a North Korean refugee.

These attributes might seem to make the show palatable to the brutal communist regime in Pyongyang, but it maintains a strict ban against all South Korean entertainment. While North Korean state media took advantage of the show’s popularity to launch a few cheap shots at the “corruption” of South Korea’s “beastly” society, the regime fears its captive citizens might notice parallels with their own ugly government and miserable lives. There is one Korea where people really are mercilessly executed for violating trivial laws, and it isn’t the southern one.

Case in point: RFA reported on Tuesday that officials caught seven high school students illegally watching Squid Game, so they arrested the smuggler who allegedly sold them a USB drive containing episodes of the show and sentenced him to death by firing squad.

“A student who bought a drive received a life sentence, while six others who watched the show have been sentenced to five years hard labor, and teachers and school administrators have been fired and face banishment to work in remote mines or themselves,” RFA added.

According to a source in North Korean law enforcement, a single high school student bought the USB drive from the smuggler, watched it with a friend, and then passed the drive around to others when the show became an underground word-of-mouth hit. The UK Daily Mail on Wednesday said the “smuggler” is himself another student at the school.

Someone reported the children to Surveillance Bureau Group 109, the government “strike force” that arrests and kills people who watch forbidden videos. The North Korean regime passed a law last year on the “Elimination of Reactionary Thought and Culture” that authorizes eliminating anyone who gives forbidden capitalist media to a minor.

The law apparently authorizes torturing the minors who watch forbidden media until they hand over everyone involved in procuring and watching the material:

“Residents are engulfed by anxiety, as the seven will be mercilessly interrogated until the authorities can find out how the drama was smuggled in with the border closed due to the coronavirus pandemic,” said the source.

“It means that the bloody winds of investigation and punishment will soon blow,” said the source, implying that a lengthy investigation would reveal the chain of distribution as each new person under investigation would be forced to tell where they got their copy from and who else they shared it with.

Punishments will not stop with the smuggler and students who viewed the video, however, as others with no connection to the incident will also be held responsible, according to the source.

RFA’s source said the government wants to make an example out of the Squid Game incident, so it has issued harsh penalties against school officials whose negligence ostensibly allowed the videos to circulate through their institution.

Another source, however, passed on rumors that at least one of the students who watched Squid Game was able to escape harsh punishment by paying a $3,000 bribe.

“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,” the source said.

So, to recap: North Korea’s elite censorship commando unit is about to shoot someone for watching a show about people who get shot for losing at children’s games, and several high-school students will be tortured into making confessions, but one of them avoided torture because his rich parents paid a bribe. You can see why the regime in Pyongyang is nervous about allowing its captive population to watch Squid Game.

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