Who makes the laws in North Korea

These things should be
in North Korea don't do that

A lot of things that we take for granted are not allowed in North Korea. Tourists are not exempt from the rules. If you want to travel to the isolated country, you should be clear about which rules it is better to comply with.

North Korea's ruler Kim Jong-un rules the country with an iron fist. In some things, the everyday life of the people there is similar to Western customs: There are universities, you eat in restaurants, drink alcohol, go shopping (including branded products from the West) or go to the cinema. However, the restrictions imposed by the repressive system are omnipresent. There is no Internet as we know it, only the North Korean intranet with pages loyal to the regime. In schools and universities, history and politics are taught as Kim Jong-un sees them. Freedom of expression and freedom of the press does not exist. And every morning at 6:00 am, the citizens of the capital Pyongyang are woken up by a propaganda melody booming from loudspeakers: "Where Are You, Dear General?" is a song in honor of the state's founder, Kim Il-sung.

Already knew? This is what everyday life looks like in North Korea

According to its 2019 report, the human rights organization "Amnesty International" sees no progress in terms of human rights. The authorities continue to severely restrict people's freedom and access to information. Up to 120,000 people are said to be held as political prisoners in the country's four penal camps. Foreign nationals have also been taken into temporary custody time and again. The tragic death of the US citizen Frederick Otto Warmbier was only a few years ago. He was arrested in 2016 for stealing a propaganda poster and died on June 19, six days after being sent back to the United States in a coma.

Careless actions can have fatal consequences in this state and tourists are not exempt from this either. The good news is: Without one or more personal guides, a tourist is usually not allowed to move freely around the country anyway. You should then follow their instructions as much as possible, not least because the rules can change.

1. The Bible is taboo

Officially, there is freedom of religion in North Korea - according to Article 68 of the legislation - as long as it does not bring foreign forces into the country and does not endanger the social order of the country. In reality, many people are held in North Korean prisons because of their religious beliefs. Christians in particular are persecuted. According to a report by the international Catholic aid organization "Kirche in Not", at least 200,000 Christians have been reported missing since 1953. Between 300,000 and 500,000 Christians are believed to still live in North Korea today.

Buddhism, shamanism and Confucianism were traditionally anchored in North Korea. From the end of the 18th century, Christianity came into the country through missionaries. Today the country is outwardly atheistic - with the "supreme leader" Kim Jong-un as the only religion. People who are discovered to have a Bible believed to be a symbol of the West can be tortured or executed.

British "Monty Python" star Michael Palin traveled to the country in May 2018 for the documentary "Michael Palin in North Korea". When he entered North Korea from China, the border guards asked him, among others, whether he had a Bible with him. "Normally I would say, 'Yes, absolutely. I'm a good Christian. But no, that's the wrong answer here," the actor said at the time.

Michael Palin's book "North Korea Journal" about his trip to the isolated country can be found here. *

2. Wholly or better not at all

Anyone in North Korea who takes photos or video recordings of the famous Mansudae monument in the North Korean capital Pyongyang should definitely observe one rule: Images with the two bronze statues of state founder Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il (the father of Kim Jong-un) must always be done in full size. For example, the image must not cut off the body of the statue in the middle. Out of respect, hands should not be put in trouser pockets. Funny grimaces or other actions that might be disrespectful to North Koreans, such as a somersault or handstand, are also to be avoided. These rules basically apply to behavior around monuments or images of Kim Jong-un and his ancestors.

In general, caution is advised when taking photos. Not all portraits of the ruling family may be photographed. If in doubt, the travel guides advise you to delete the photos again. It is also possible that the photos on the camera or smartphone are checked by customs officers.

Photos of military personnel and facilities are also prohibited (the demilitarized zone is an exception). However, this rule does not distinguish North Korea so much from other countries around the world.

3. Please do not fold

Out of respect for those in power, photographs with the likeness of Kim Jong-un on them must not be folded in half. Incidentally, this also applies to the front page of the North Korean newspapers, on which the head of state is depicted. The newspaper must therefore be folded in a special way so as not to attract the anger of the local authorities. As tourists report, it is not a problem to keep the newspaper when you leave the country. From the regime's point of view, there is clearly nothing to prevent the spread of North Korean propaganda abroad.

There are a total of 12 newspapers and 20 periodicals in North Korea, all of which are published in the capital, Pyongyang. Although the constitution stipulates freedom of the press and freedom of expression, this does not exist in reality. The regime strictly controls every publication. The people are not allowed to consume foreign media. According to statements from North Koreans living abroad, international reporting is severely limited. Only what is reported is not detrimental to North Korea's leadership.

4. Free movement prohibited

Photos or content that is sexually explicit or pornographic are prohibited in North Korea and their production, distribution and importation are severely punished. It is therefore not advisable to have such photos saved on your tablet or smartphone when entering the country. Of course, that doesn't mean that people in the country don't trade diligently and secretly in spite of this. However, pornography was banned from the public.

The book "North Korea: Inside Views of a Total State" can be found here. *

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5. Cell phones with eavesdropping functionality

The mobile phone is practically useless in North Korea and not always welcomed: Although the previous rule on the prohibition of mobile phones in the country has been relaxed, mobile phones are often still confiscated at customs. You should also be aware that if you have permission to use your cell phone, you must use the North Korean cellular service and all calls can be monitored by the North Korean authorities.

6. No sarcasm wanted

Sarcastic remarks against Kim Jong-un, his ancestors or his regime are considered sacrilege. As early as 2016, US media reported that the phrase "this is all America's fault" was banned. North Korea's rulers saw this as an intolerable mockery of his statements, in which he blames the United States for everything that goes wrong.

Statements that the regime considers derogatory can be seen as "hostile acts against North Korea" and lead to imprisonment.

In North Korea, by the way, people don't like to hear the western name of the country: Instead, tourists should rather call the country the "Democratic People's Republic of Korea" (DPRK).

7. Political sentiment

In North Korea you should keep your own political views to yourself as much as possible. Denigrating the political system there is dangerous. Tourists should not remove any propaganda material or express themselves disparagingly about the ruler or the country. It is also forbidden to bring political material into North Korea from one's own country. This can also include political journals or magazines.

8. Never without a companion

Foreign travelers are never allowed to travel to North Korea without the company of a local guide. Anyone who does not comply is viewed by the regime as a suspected spy. It is therefore essential not to deliberately leave your companion or go on a tour of discovery alone.

Finally, you should know: If you do not follow the rules of your North Korean tour guide, you are not only endangering yourself. The accompanying person could also be punished for "aiding in espionage".

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