North Korea labels cell phone users “war criminals” during mourning period

Amid all the deprivations that North Koreans face, this might seem like a minor one in comparison, but the UK newspaper The Telegraph is reporting that “citizens caught… using mobile phones during the 100-day mourning period for Kim Jong-il will be branded as "war criminals" and punished accordingly.”

Trying to defect to China would also garner severe punishment, but the cell phone charge seems to take aim at discontent from North Korea being broadcast around the world while the regime consolidates around the fledgling leadership of Kim Jong Un, Kim Jong Il’s son and heir.

Foreign Policy magazine said, “Of course, it's easy to see why the regime is becoming so antsy about cell phone usage. The Arab Spring protests were energized by Twitter and Facebook via cell phones, and other mass movements including the Occupy protests were spread through this medium as well.”

More on GlobalPost: North Korea punishes insincere mourners

In Nov. 2011, Reuters reported that North Korea was set to cross the threshold of 1 million users on its new 3G network. That benchmark came only four years after people “were thrown into prison camps, or possibly even executed, for owning one.”

A report that same month by the Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainability said 60 percent of people between the ages of 20 and 50 used cell phones in the capital, Pyongyang, which has a population of 3 million.

The report, authored by Alexandre Y. Mansourov, said:

Its telecommunications market is still very small, stove-piped, non-competitive, and highly regulated by the oppressive government placing a premium on regime security as opposed to consumer demand and the developing tastes of its population.

According to World Politics Review, an attempt to ban cell phones in North Korea in 2004 resulted in an expansion of the black market, with relay stations set up on the Chinese border to connect North Koreans to the South.

More on GlobalPost: North Korea calls for "human shields" to defend Kim Jong Un

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Sign up for The Top of the World, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.