History logo

North Korea's Imposed Fortress: The Inescapable Reality of Isolation

The Digital Clampdown: North Korea's Unyielding Grip on Information and Escape Routes

By QuintPublished 4 months ago 3 min read

North Korea stands as the only nation in the contemporary world where its citizens are prohibited from leaving without prior state permission, a departure considered treasonous by the government. The consequences of attempting an unauthorized exit range from lengthy prison sentences in labor camps to execution. Even internal movement within North Korea is heavily regulated, requiring official documentation and permits. The international consensus designates North Korea as having the worst human rights record globally, with mandatory ten-year military service, absence of free speech, and state-owned media.

Amnesty International estimated around 200,000 political prisoners in North Korean camps in 2017, subjected to slave labor, torture, and summary executions. Beyond political crimes, individuals can face life imprisonment merely for being related to someone who committed an offense. The regime strictly bans foreign media, imposing severe penalties for smuggling, distributing, or consuming it. Public executions, a rarity globally, are carried out in North Korea, aligning it with Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Somalia in this practice.

Foreigners face significant challenges gaining entry, enduring intense surveillance during curated tours. Instances such as Otto Warmbier's arrest for attempting to steal a propaganda poster in 2016 highlight the risks foreigners encounter, with some facing death for violating arbitrary laws. The regime's isolationist policies extend beyond geography, creating a closed, secretive state that is challenging for anything or anyone to penetrate.

North Korea's geographical isolation plays a role in its seclusion. Surrounded by the Sea of Japan and the Yellow Sea to the east and west, respectively, the country is akin to a de facto island. Escaping across these seas is hindered by a lack of boats and regular naval patrols. The heavily fortified demilitarized zone (DMZ) along the southern border with South Korea poses another formidable barrier.

South Korea becomes a desirable destination for defectors due to its wealth and development. The government considers all Koreans on the peninsula its citizens, providing a strong incentive for defection. Historically, the northern border with China and Russia provided escape routes. The porous nature of the northern border allowed for smuggling of goods and people. However, once across, defectors were not entirely safe, facing extradition agreements with China and Russia.

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 triggered a spike in defections, exacerbated by a severe famine in the 1990s. Entrepreneurial smugglers emerged, facilitating the influx of goods and the escape of defectors. However, Kim Jong-un's rise to power in 2011 marked a shift, with increased crackdowns on defections and smuggling. Signal jammers, intensified border patrols, and new fortifications made escaping more perilous.

By 2020, North Korea's isolation intensified, sealing its borders due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Buffer zones on the northern borders with China and Russia were established, and shoot-to-kill orders were issued. The regime exploited the pandemic to construct extensive new fortifications along the borders, effectively blocking historical escape routes. Domestic travel restrictions and harsh laws criminalizing contact with the outside world further contributed to the isolation.

North Korea's closed digital state is a long-term project, extending to control over communication devices. State-sanctioned phones with limited functionalities and strict surveillance have been enforced. Foreign phones, which once provided a lifeline to the outside for families and defectors, faced heightened scrutiny. The regime's aim is to create a fully isolated state, digitally and physically, barring any external influence.

The trend of successful defections sharply declined since 2020, with only 67 recorded in 2022. The regime's isolationist measures, combined with strict laws and heightened risks, have rendered escape nearly impossible. The closed borders have also disrupted the smuggling of foreign media, contributing to the regime's goal of maintaining strict control over information.

The isolationist approach extends beyond North Korea, with other countries implementing censorship and restrictions on foreign media. The digital landscape, once seen as a global space, is becoming fragmented, with websites and apps facing bans based on geopolitical considerations. The use of Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) is highlighted as a tool to bypass restrictions and save on travel expenses.

In conclusion, North Korea's isolation has reached unprecedented levels since 2020, with a combination of geographical barriers, fortified borders, strict laws, and digital controls. The regime's efforts to create a closed digital state have significantly limited communication and information flow. The broader trend of increasing restrictions on foreign media in various countries adds to the challenges of maintaining a global, interconnected digital space.

World HistoryPlacesEventsDiscoveries

About the Creator


Welcome to my corner on Vocal.media! I'm a passionate writer sharing engaging stories and unique perspectives. Explore cultures, arts, sciences, and everyday moments with me through concise and intriguing articles. Enjoy the reads!

Reader insights

Be the first to share your insights about this piece.

How does it work?

Add your insights

Comments (3)

Sign in to comment
  • Manikandan Blog Writer4 months ago



  • Test4 months ago

    I find this article appealing due to its well-executed writing and informative content.

Find us on social media

Miscellaneous links

  • Explore
  • Contact
  • Privacy Policy
  • Terms of Use
  • Support

© 2024 Creatd, Inc. All Rights Reserved.