North Korea has reportedly banned gatherings that involve drinking alcohol and singing, in new measures designed to stifle the impact of crippling international sanctions over the hermit kingdom’s ongoing missile tests.
The apparent ban on fun was reported by South Korea’s National Intelligence Bureau during a closed-door briefing to parliamentarians on Monday.
“[Pyongyang] has devised a system whereby party organs report people’s economic hardships on a daily basis, and it has banned any gatherings related to drinking, singing and other entertainment,” news agency Yonhap reported the NIS as saying.
The crackdown follows the surprise cancellation of the popular Pyongyang Beer Festival in July, during a period of sustained drought.
North Koreans, who already endure severe restrictions on their travel and freedoms, have also been forbidden from expressing gratitude to their mothers on Mothers’ Day out of concern that it detracts from their enforced adulation of dictator Kim Jong-un, the Daily NK website reported.
Sources inside the pariah state told the South Korea-based site that the rising popularity of the official November holiday to applaud mothers’ roles as the “amazing teachers and guides of the nation” had jarred with the supreme leader’s cult of personality.
The authorities had now made it clear that messages on flower bouquets that showed love or loyalty to anyone other than Mr Kim would not be tolerated.
“It’s really sad that people have to express thanks to ‘the father’ Kim Jong-un after every little thing he does, but we cannot express thanks to our actual mothers on Mothers’ Day,” said a resident of South Pyongan Province.
Meanwhile, Mr Kim is said to also be tightening his grip on the nation’s elites to ensure their loyalty and has disciplined two officials at the head of North Korea’s most powerful military organisation.
Reports that Hwang Pyong-so and Kim Won-hong may have been punished after the first inspection of the General Political Bureau in 20 years were also contained in Monday’s NIS briefing.
The rare audit was conducted following suspicions of an “impure attitude” within the Bureau towards the regime, said NIS officials. They could not reveal any further details about what was uncovered or the punishment meted out.
Although the NIS made no reference to a purge, the inspection may indicate a power struggle within the pariah regime’s elite amid an escalating standoff with the US over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programme.
According to the New York Times, Mr Hwang, who has the title of Vice-Marshall, has not been seen in public since October 13.
As the official holding the most senior military position after the supreme commander, he is a powerful figure who oversees personnel decisions in military, political and ideological affairs.
He is one of the few trusted officials to represent the regime abroad and was one of only four people filmed in a meeting with Mr Kim after North Korea’s sixth nuclear test in September.
Intelligence officials also forecasted that there could be another missile test before the end of this year after a recent hiatus.