North Korean Teens Sentenced To Hard Labour For Watching K-Drama

In a move raising international alarm, two North Korean teenagers have been allegedly sentenced to 12 years of hard labour for watching and distributing South Korean media, including K-pop content.

Pavi Vyas
New Update
Credits: BBC

(Image: Screengrab from the video shared by BBC)

North Korea has publicly sentenced two teenage boys to a staggering 12 years of hard labor for the mere act of watching South Korean TV shows, popularly known as K-dramas. The video footage released by the South and North Development (SAND) Institute, an organization supporting North Korean defectors, sheds light on the oppressive nature of the regime and the lengths to which it goes to control its citizens, even in their choice of entertainment.


The footage, believed to be filmed in 2022, shows two 16-year-old boys convicted in an outdoor stadium in Pyongyang, North Korea, for engaging in South Korean entertainment such as TV, films, and K-pop music that has been banned in the country for years due to ideological concerns and the ongoing geopolitical tensions.

16-Year-Old Teenagers Sentenced To 12 Years Hard Labour:

The video shows the two teenagers handcuffed in front of hundreds of students by uniformed officers, and the footage also depicts the boys being reprimanded for "not deeply reflecting on their mistakes." Reuters and other news outlets reported on the video, but independent verification is difficult due to North Korea's strict information control.

Despite North Korea's strict control over videos, photos, and evidence of life in the country being leaked or provided to the outside world, the video was provided to BBC Korea by SAND, a research institute that works with defectors from North Korea. However, the authenticity of the video and the veracity of the claims remain unconfirmed, as independent verification within North Korea is extremely difficult

The footage is reportedly distributed in North Korea for ideological teaching purposes and as a warning of consequences for flouting the laws that forbid watching "decadent recordings.". The leaking of footage from North Korea is rare and is believed to be the government's intent to "teach lessons."

As reported by BBC, The video had a narrator repeating the state's propaganda that can be heard in the video "the rotten puppet regime's culture has spread even to teenagers," referring to South Korean media, the voice continued public humiliation of the boys in a reprimanding form as it stated, "They are just 16 years old, but they ruined their own future." 


As per the BBC reports, even the names and addresses of the boys were announced in the footage.

Strict Control Of Information:

North Korea maintains a strict isolationist policy and tightly controls access to outside information, especially South Korean media. South Korean culture, including K-pop, is seen as a threat to the regime's ideology and a potential catalyst for political dissent.

Earlier, minors who had flouted laws in this way were sent to youth labour camps rather than put behind bars, and the punishment was less than five years, but this incident highlights the stricter laws in the country even for minors.

In 2020, Pyongyang also imposed a law making consuming or distributing South Korean entertainment a punishable offence of death. Reportedly, the BBC previously narrated an ordeal by a defector who alleged he was forced to watch a 22-year-old man shot dead for listening to South Korean music and sharing South Korean films with his friend.

A defector also shared that if you are caught watching an American drama in North Korea, you can perhaps get away with a bribe, but if one is caught consuming South Korean entertainment, they are shot dead as it is considered like a 'drug' that makes people forget their ideology.


The president of SAND Institute and a Doctor of Political Science in Japan, who defected from North Korea in 2001, Chong Kyong-hui opined that the Genz and Millenials have a changed way of thinking and what is troublesome to Kim Jong Un (North Korean leader) is the growing admiration towards South Korean admiration that is a threat to the monolithic ideologies that makes North Korean citizens revere to Kim and his family. Kim is trying to turn the youth into North Korean ways, as said by Dr Chong. 


However, the reported severity of the sentence has sparked outrage and concern among human rights organizations and international observers. The incident highlights the ongoing tensions between North and South Korea, two countries technically still at war after the Korean War ended in a truce.

It also brings to light the human cost of North Korea's strict adherence to its ideology, where even seemingly innocuous acts like enjoying K-pop can carry severe consequences.


human rights K-Pop North Korea