Regardless of how much you know about North Korea, it will never fail to amaze you. North Korea is the most secretive and controversial country in the world and it is notoriously known for its Soviet Gulag like labor camps, extreme personality worship and large scale famines. It is also home to some of the most bizarre laws ever conceived by humankind. Whilst these laws seem ridiculous, many are absolutely brutal and haunt the daily lives of the civilians of this iron-fisted totalitarian state. It would be an understatement to call North Korea the most terrible country in the world. Whilst you enjoy memes of our favorite round boy Kim Jong-Un, you need to remember that he is also a ruthless dictator who butchered millions of his own people.
We have prepared 15 of the most ridiculous laws that can only exist in North Korea. Is North Korea a place you want to visit, let alone to live in? Absolutely not.
16. Invasive and Rigorous Customs Screening
For those who are brave enough to visit North Korea, expect to give up your privacy. Upon entering its borders, every single item you possess would be rigorously examined. Your body would also be wholly searched in a manner that would make TSA practices seem amateur. Tourists would be asked to hand over all of their electronics, including mobile phones, laptops and external storage devices. Their contents would be closely examined and if they contain any materials critical of the North Korean government, they would be immediately confiscated. Want to keep in touch with family and friends? Don’t even think about it, your SIM card would be confiscated and only returned to you upon departure. Oddly enough, they would also take away your camera lens if they are exceed 150mm. You would also have to wave goodbye to any electronics you own with GPS functionality. Make sure you pack light, very light. Who knows what they would do, they might even analyze your Tinder history.
15. Big Brother is Watching You…For Real.
As soon as they arrive, tourists are subject to the close surveillance of the North Korean government for the entirety of their trip. If you feel like that Big Brother is watching, then most likely he is. Tourists are placed under the management of official tour guides and you must adhere to their every instruction. It is against the law for you to wander off independently, talk to a local or purchase an item from a non-tourist shop. This level of surveillance is especially bizarre given that tourists are restricted to an exclusive areas and routes in the first place. There have been many visitors who have been arrested for deviating from their prearranged tours.
14. Mandatory to Handover Human Waste
Human waste is a crucial resource in North Korea and its institutions have formal targets to meet. The long winters and mountainous terrain of the country made agriculture difficult and fertilizers essential in farming sufficient produce. North Korea is far from capable of being self sufficient and have historically relied on the support of the the Soviet Union and more recently South Korea. When South Korea ceased sending fertilizers in 2008, it has resolved to human faeces. Accordingly, this was translated into law in the form of mandatory targets for local factories, where each factory is required to meet a quota exceeding two tons. Local authorities would have likewise enforced targets upon civilians to ensure that everyone is at their top pooping capacity. The demand for this sacred resource has become so high that black-market stores have been opened to facilitate its trade.
13. Approved Haircuts Only
Perhaps the craziest law ever introduced by Kim Jung-Un when he came into power in 2013 was the prescription of hairstyles. Not only is he obsessed with his own fluffy hairdo, he also wants to regulate that of every North Korean. By law, locals can only choose to have one of 28 approved hairstyles, handpicked by Kim himself. Men can choose from 10 hairstyles and women can choose from 18. In any event, spiky hair is an absolute “no-no” for men and and women are expected to have shorter hair upon marriage. Whilst there are no reports on how these rules are enforced, they are official laws nonetheless. Fancy some side bangs? No. What about a fluffy mullet? Nope. Sexy sideburns? Not a single chance.
12. No Religious Worship or Activities
Faith has no meaning in North Korea and civilians are prohibited from having a religion. The Supreme Leader Kim Jung-Un is above all and innocent civilians must not become corrupted by Western ideologies of idol worship. Religious practices are prohibited by law and anyone found conducting religious activities can be executed or sentenced to serve in labor camps. In particular, a Christian woman distributing copies of the Bible to the locals was publicly executed. Numerous incidents have also been reported where foreigners were arrested for the possession of religious items. For example, an American tourist was jailed for six months for leaving behind a copy of the Bible in a nightclub. This ban is beyond ridiculous and extremely ironic, given that the worship of the Kims has become a religion in itself.
11. No Traveling for Locals
In North Korean, mobility is just as limited to locals as it is for visitors. North Koreans cannot travel away from their hometown without government permission. Unless you are part of the elite or a government official, you must obtain formal papers before you can move a foot away from your home. Even If these papers are obtained, you won’t be able to make it far. Traveling by rail is limited to the elite and so is owning a car. In fact, there are reports which suggest that North Korea has laws explicitly banning ordinary civilians from driving. In any event, those who intends to travel far will likely freeze to death on the way. Electricity is scarce resource and the majority of buildings doesn’t have a way to combat the extreme temperature which can get as low as -15 C (5 F).
10. Government Decides Where You Live
Not only does the North Korean government decide whether its civilians get to travel, it also decides where they live. Your location is determined by your social class and your relationship to the government. Like many other laws, this law reinforces the class segregation system which the Kims believe to be paramount in ensuring political stability. In particular, the capital city, Pyongyang, is strictly reserved for the absolute elite. The military patrols the borders of Pyongyang to keep the lower classes out, in a way very similar to how the Capitol does it in The Hunger Games. Likewise, reminiscent of this fictional series, the three million elites in Pyongyang live in lavish luxury whilst the rest of population are on the border of starvation. In short, the closer to Pyongyang you live, the higher class you are, and a little further you are from death.
9. Getting Stoned Is Only An Arm Away
North Korean is known for being the most conservative country in the world…but not when it comes to getting high and getting stoned. The totalitarian country is surprisingly progressive in this space by having no laws against the possession, use and trade of marijuana. North Koreans and their government don’t even see weed as a drug whatsoever. The same attitude applies to cannabis. Not only being totally unregulated in North Korea, reports also say that they are everywhere along roads and highways. We have absolutely no idea why this is the case. Perhaps this isn’t surprising after all, given that North Korea also earns a big portion of its state revenue from illegal arms trade and defrauding international insurance companies.
8. Love the Kims and the State
Each totalitarian dictatorship has its own cult of personality and North Korea is no exception. Anything which has the slightest potential of disrespecting or subverting the image of the Kim family, the North Korean government, or the Workers’ Party of Korea is out right blasphemy. Whether you are a local or a tourist, disrespecting any of these three entities is the most sure-fire way to get yourself arrested or even executed. All potential political dissent is punishable by death, as Kim Jong-Un has illustrated through the brutal execution of his uncle in 2014 and the assassination of his brother earlier this year. You may have also heard of the famous arrest of US national Otto Warmbier and his subsequent death.
Propaganda dedicated to Kim Jung-Un, Kim Jung-Il and Kim Il-Sung are literally everywhere in the country. Posters, banners, statues, you name it. Reports estimates that there are more than 34,000 statutes of Kim Il-Sung alone in North Korea. A major portion of the curriculum in all levels of education also focuses upon the history of the Kim family. The supremacy of the North Korean leader is also formally recognized in its legal system. He is above the Workers’ Party, the civil laws, and even the North Korean Constitution.
7. Mandatory Farcical Elections
By law, the North Koreans run an election to choose their leader. Now that’s absolutely bizarre given that there’s always only one candidate on the ballot. It used to be Kim Jung-Il and now it is Kim Jong-Un. If there are more than one candidate, they would have been political actors commissioned by the Kims to deliberately lose. The method of voting is also extremely intriguing – locals can cross out the names of the candidate they don’t support. Crossing out Kim’s name is an act of serious disrespect and is hence punishable by arrest or even death. Furthermore, voting is mandatory and this well choreographed political performance happens once every five years. Ahhh…the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, how “democratic” indeed.
6. Three-Caste Hereditary Social System
There is absolutely no social mobility in North Korea because your social class would have been determined by the Kims before you were born. In 1957, to increase control over his country, Kim Il-Sung introduced an all-encompassing social class system that categorized his own people into three classes – the “core”, the “wavering”, and the “hostiles.” Under his system, one’s class is completely determined by their “songbun”, that is, their family history with respect to their loyalty towards the Kims.
The “core” group contains the elite and now forms the government officials who are closely connected to the Workers’ Party. The “wavering” is more or less the neutral class who are considered ordinary and obedient in the eyes of the Kims On the other hand, the “hostiles” are those whose family has wronged against the Kim family. The Kims consider them to be subversive pests who should suffer in poverty and be segregated from the rest of the population. The 200,000 odd prisoners which North Korea has in its many labor camps also belong to this class.
5. The Worst Crime is to Escape
Given the numerous crazy laws mentioned above, you would expect every North Korean with a sound mind to pack up and flee their controlling country. Well, they can’t. It is illegal for them to leave and anyone who crosses the border without official papers will be gunned down by the guards. The Kims recognize their people’s intention to leave his socialist utopia as upmost disrespect and must be given the harshest punishment. In addition, this ban also prevents defectors from leaking information to the rest of the world. Despite this prohibition, North Korea has been experiencing a refugee crisis. Every year, thousands still risk their lives to escape their bloodthirsty dictator. Since the 1950s, more than 24,000 defectors have found refuge in South Korea. Research also states that more than 200,000 North Korean defectors are hiding in the mountains and rural areas in China.
4. Three Generations of Punishment
Nothing else spells out the word “barbaric” in North Korea more than the law of the Three Generations of Punishment. If a North Korean commits a serious crime (i.e. almost every single crime), their entire bloodline of three generations will be punished. This law is most often applied to political offenses. If you disrespect the Supreme Leader, your grandparents, parents and children will be also face the consequences. North Korean defectors have reported their experiences of witnessing entire families or even villages being publically executed for very petty crimes. Commentators suggest that this law intends to prevent prisoners from escaping labor camps. If you successfully escape, your family will take your place. This ridiculous law is absolutely brutal and the United Nations have even questioned whether it is a crime against humanity.
3. Being American May Be Illegal
The most bizarre thing about the North Korean “legal” system is that a tourist may be arrested simply because they are from the US. The historical political tension between North Korea and the US has been elevated to new heights in light of recent events. With many North Koreans brainwashed to believe that it is the US who intends to invade their country, North Korea considers the US to be their biggest enemy. The recent decade saw the arrest of 16 American tourists and it is even believed that Otto Warmbier was arrested because he was American. Being a part of an official tour doesn’t mean that you won’t be arrested for an “undisclosed hostile act.”
This animosity is so great that the US Department of State has now issued an official “North Korea Travel Warning” which instructs American citizens to refrain from traveling to the country. The Department further warns that nationals intending to travel should enroll into the Smart Traveler Enrolment Program so that their safety can be monitored.
2. Their Own Basketball Laws
Not only does this extremely bizarre country have the weirdest laws, they have also reinvented the game of basketball. Although the style of the game is relatively the same, North Koreans have completely revamped the scoring system and implemented their own criteria. For example, slam dunks are worth 3 points, three-pointers are worth 4 points but only if the ball doesn’t touch the rim, and if a player throws three times but fails to score, a point will be deducted. Absolutely mind-boggling, right? Perhaps not so much given that this same country also claims to have invented another US staple, the hamburger…
1. Absolutely No Filthy Capitalist Items
Capitalists are bad, filthy bad in the land of the socialist utopia. Anything with the slightest potential of having a Western influence are strictly prohibited in North Korea. Western culture is labelled as corrupted in nature and these items would be immediately confiscated. Their owners may also be arrested and consigned to labor camps, which due to their extreme conditions, are effectively death sentences. The most famous of these is the ordinary blue jeans which was termed “capitalist propaganda”, but they also include Western CD’s, DVD’s, and literature. This is best illustrated through the recent example of how the North Korean National Security Agency raided entire villages following allegations that villagers were watching South Korean DVD’s.
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