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North Korea sentences 2 teens to 12 years of hard labor for watching K-pop: report


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Two North Korean teenagers were sentenced to 12 years of hard labor after they were previously convicted of watching K-pop videos, according to a video released Friday.

K-pop, or Korean pop, is South Korean music which is barred in the North. North Korea has imposed tough sentences on anyone caught enjoying South Korean entertainment, including movies and music videos, to reduce outside influence under a sweeping new “anti-reactionary thought” law that was first imposed in 2020.

Reuters reported North Korean authorities sentenced the two 16-year-old girls during a public hearing and that video footage of the sentencing was released Friday by the South and North Development (SAND) Institute, an organization that works with North Korean defectors.

K-pop bands like the seven-member band BTS, the all-female Blackpink and the South Korean duo TVXQ have surged in popularity in South Korea and around the world for their charisma and soulful harmonies.


Kim Jong Un

North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un said that he would be revising the North’s constitution to recognize South Korea as a mortal enemy, discarding ideas of a reunified Korean Peninsula. (KCNA via REUTERS)

The video, produced by North Korean authorities, shows the two handcuffed students wearing gray scrubs in an amphitheater with about 1,000 students watching the sentencing.

Choi Kyong-hui, president of SAND and doctor of Political Science at Tokyo University, who defected from North Korea in 2001, told Reuters that the heavy punishment is likely to be a message to other students and the country.

The BTS band members

The seven-member band BTS, including V, Suga, Jin, Jungkook, RM, Jimin and J-Hope, have surged in popularity in recent years. (Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)

“Judging from the heavy punishment, it seems that this is to be shown to people across North Korea to warn them. If so, it appears this lifestyle of South Korean culture is prevalent in North Korean society,” Choi said.


The date of the sentencing was not provided, but all the students, including the two 16-year-olds, were wearing face masks in the video. Choi suggested this could mean the video was recorded during the COVID pandemic.

“I think this video was edited around 2022… What is troublesome for (North Korean leader) Kim Jong Un is that Millennials and Gen Z young people have changed their way of thinking. I think he’s working on turning it back to the North Korean way,” Choi added.

In the video, the narrator said the students were convicted of watching and spreading South Korean movies, music and music videos over three months.


“They were seduced by foreign culture… and ended up ruining their lives,” the narrator can be heard saying before it shows the teens.

North Korean flag, people

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula remain turbulent with North Korea continuing to develop and test nuclear and ballistic technologies. (KIM WON JIN/AFP via Getty Images)

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula remain turbulent as the North continues to develop and test nuclear and ballistic technologies. The effort to bolster its arsenal comes in preparation for a potential war with the South and its allies, which include the United States and Japan.

Earlier this month, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un said that he would be discarding his country’s longstanding idea of a peaceful reunification with South Korea and would be revising its constitution accordingly.

North Korea is technically still at war with democratic South Korea after their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce and not a formal peace treaty.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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