In Hyesan, North Korea, a police officer stopped a motorist in 2022. When the driver was unable to show the officer his official documents, the officer demanded a bribe of gasoline and cash. In a country as repressive as North Korea, it would normally be a very bad situation for the driver. Instead, it turned out to be a debacle for the cop.
After detaining the man for two hours, the motorist drove over the police motorcycle, and then proceeded to beat the cop down until he lay unconscious and bleeding on the ground. It’s just one in a string of incidents revealed by documents leaked to Radio Free Asia. North Korea is getting sick of tyranny and they aren’t afraid to show it to the state police apparatus.
Believe it or not, many North Koreans know just how hard their lives are compared to the rest of the world. Many have smuggled in outside cell phones to speak to family members who managed to escape abroad, receive foreign currency or have managed to join an underground black market economy. These days, these three methods are the best ways to survive inside the country.
That is, of course, if they aren’t a member of the ruling elite. Life is very different for the ruling class of North Koreans, who enjoy the best food rations, best pay, and the best housing in Pyongyang, which also has the best infrastructure. Elsewhere in the country, the availability of everyday items, including food, is hit-or-miss at best.
Living in the North Korean system, as it was set up by the government is a surefire route to a slow, hungry death. Every North Korean needs some kind of side hustle to get by, even if it’s as simple as growing their own corn. For North Korea’s police officers, that hustle is accepting bribes.
Using one’s position for personal gain in a country like that makes sense. The problem with a cop’s position is that their demands usually do not benefit the other party involved. After decades of taking from the populace, the only thing police officers are getting is beaten down in the streets.
“Not long ago, I came across a secret document containing surprising information. Between July and December of last year, dozens of incidents of people protesting against the tyranny of police, or even extracting revenge by beating them up have occurred here in Ryanggang province,” a provincial official told Radio Free Asia.
It’s not just the taking of bribes that angers residents; police have long acted with a heavy hand, hurling insults to citizens and doling out beatings on the unsuspecting or even the innocent. The tables are beginning to turn on the officers.
In another incident, a police officer insulted the wife of a man in Paegam in front of her entire workplace. Later that day, the man and his son cornered the officer on the side of a road and delivered a beating of their own.
North Korea has been struggling economically since the early 1990s, when the Soviet Union fell and the North lost its biggest source of external support. Since then, the populace has not been able to feed itself, and North Korea’s “Juche” (self-reliance) policy has caused a famine and countrywide food shortages.
The COVID-19 pandemic is known to have exacerbated these shortages, but no one knows just how bad it’s been. A public unafraid of its repressive law enforcement is a sure sign that the Kim regime is rotting from the inside and could be the beginning of a wider revolt.