Illicit mobile phone stats

According to Business Week:

As many as 1,000 North Koreans use handsets that connect to Chinese networks to tell people in the South about subjects ranging from food shortages to leader Kim Jong Il’s health, said Ha Tae Keung, a South Korean who runs a Seoul-based radio station that broadcasts daily to the North.

Ha’s Open Radio for North Korea is one of several groups gathering information from people on phones that only work near the 1,400-kilometer (870-mile) border with China. The risks are absolute: One caller was executed, Ha’s employees heard, leading Open Radio to curb contact with informants.

“To us, it’s about breaking news,” said Ha, who receives U.S. congressional funding through the National Endowment for Democracy. “To them, it’s a matter of life and death.”

North Korea accuses the U.S. and South Korea of financing such organizations to conduct “a black propaganda campaign,” the Korean Central News Agency said last month. Kim’s government glorifies his achievements as “the great sun of the nation,” who repels “U.S. warmongers and South Korean puppet forces.”

Defection and disclosing “national secrets” are deemed treason under North Korea’s criminal code and are punishable by death, according to a copy posted on the Web site of South Korea’s Unification Ministry. Listening to “anti-state radio” is punishable by up to five years in a labor camp.

Radios are pre-tuned to government programs and owning computers without permission is forbidden, according to the Feb. 17 UN report. Security squads raid homes looking for contraband, it said.

While mobile phones are allowed in and around the capital of Pyongyang, their use is forbidden near the border, the UN said. Legal cell phones in North Korea, many operated by Cairo- based Orascom Telecom Holding SAE, can’t be used for international calls, a U.S. State Department human-rights report released in March said.

SIM Cards
More than 10 North Korean informants for Open Radio use phones with pre-paid SIM cards bought in China that work as far as 10 kilometers across the border, Ha said. Pre-paid cards accounted for 82 percent of all users at Beijing-based China Mobile Ltd., that country’s biggest operator, in 2007.

Illegal phones started appearing as early as 2000, when defectors living in China and South Korea had them smuggled across the border to relatives, said Sohn Kwang Joo, chief editor at Seoul-based Daily NK.

Read the full story here:
North Korea Open Radio Prompts Wonder About Riches Over Border
Business Week
Bomi Lim
3/31/2010

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