A North Korean man has reportedly been sentenced to death by authorities after he was caught distributing copies of the Netflix series “Squid Game,” which Pyongyang says reflects South Korea’s “beastly” society.
According to Radio Free Asia (RFA), the individual smuggled in copies of the Korean-language Netflix hit via USB flash drives and sold them in North Korea. He was sentenced to death by firing squad after authorities found seven high school students watching the nine-part thriller series in class.
A North Korean propaganda website last month said that the show exposes the reality of South Korean capitalist culture where “corruption and immoral scoundrels are commonplace” and an “unequal society where moneyless people are treated like chess pieces for the rich.”
“It is said that it makes people realize the sad reality of the beastly South Korean society in which human beings are driven into extreme competition and their humanity is being wiped out,” North Korea’s Arirang Meari site said.
A student who purchased a USB flash drive containing the series was handed a life sentence, while six other students have been issued a sentence of five years hard labor, RFA reported, citing sources in North Korea.
“This all started last week when a high school student secretly bought a USB flash drive containing the South Korean drama ‘Squid Game’ and watched it with one of his best friends in class,” an unnamed law enforcement source in North Korea’s North Hamgyong province told RFA’s Korean Service on Monday.
“The friend told several other students, who became interested, and they shared the flash drive with them. They were caught by the censors in 109 Sangmu, who had received a tipoff,” the source added.
RFA reported that North Korea has a government strike force, named Surveillance Bureau Group 109, which targets individuals watching videos that are prohibited in the country.
North Korea has been imposing stiff fines or prison for anyone caught enjoying South Korean entertainment or copying the way South Koreans speak as leader Kim Jong Un steps up a war on outside influences and calls for better homegrown entertainment.
A sweeping new “anti-reactionary thought” law was imposed late last year, and carries a maximum penalty of death for watching, obtaining, or distributing media from counties including South Korea and the United States.
Yeonmi Park, a North Korean defector, described Netflix’s most-watched show as presenting a “very accurate portrayal of North Koreans’ plight in South Korea, and the journey they go through to become free.”
However, she expressed concern over the show’s apparent demonization of inequality.
“Inequality is a sign of opportunity,” she said in a video on her YouTube channel in October. “When I was in North Korea, everybody was dirt poor. When I came to South Korea and America, I heard that there are trillionaires, billionaires, and these are people who founded companies such as Tesla, SpaceX, and invented new things.”
“In North Korea everyone is poor because nobody is allowed to invent, and there’s so much demonization and animosity toward wealth. I keep saying to people, inequality doesn’t mean poverty, poverty is something that we need to fight against,” Park continued.
“In the United States there is opportunity, you earn honest money, feed your children, and get an education, while in North Korea, you cannot do that,” she added. “That’s why I now have concern with the media focusing on inequality, portraying the main [‘Squid Game’] character who isn’t disciplined, is a bad father … as a hero.”
The director of “Squid Game” has said the popular show is likely to return for a second season.
“We are in the talks for Season Two,” writer-director Hwang Dong-hyuk said in an interview on Nov. 8. “It’s all in my head. I have the basic storyline, the broad plan, so we’re in the brainstorming stages.
“I’m going to go ahead and say there will be a second season, but as for when, I cannot tell you now,” Hwang added.
Reuters contributed to this report.