In the latest example of the great risks that North Koreans take to get independent news, a North Korean soldier was jailed for listening to Radio Free Asia (RFA) while on duty in recent weeks.
Two USAGM networks broadcast to the North Korean people—the Voice of America (VOA) and RFA—providing some of the only sources of accurate and unbiased information available in the country. While most North Koreans are restricted by the North Korean government from accessing outside information, RFA reports that soldiers in signals communications or radio transmission jobs are able to tune in to foreign broadcasts during long, unsupervised shifts. According to an RFA source, the soldier in the most recent case was discovered listening to RFA after forgetting to turn the frequency back. She was then arrested and is now being severely punished in a political prison camp.
This unfortunate incident is not unique. In a recent RFA interview, a former officer of the North Korean signal corps and defector to South Korea explained that he witnessed the execution of a colleague for listening to RFA. He himself listened to RFA for six years as a signal duty officer, stating that RFA’s broadcasts were the key influence for his decision to defect. While North Korea’s restrictive environment makes in-country audience research impossible, USAGM collects data from surveys of North Korean refugees and defectors. Survey participants have repeatedly confirmed the direct use of RFA and VOA radio programs inside North Korea despite the threat of severe penalties for listening.