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Rise in crimes amid food crisis in North Korea

In May, violent crimes in the country tripled compared to the same period last year, and suicide rate increased by 40 percent
In a file photo, a North Korean man walks near a big screen on a street near a residential complex which is lit at night in Pyongyang, North Korea

In a file photo, a North Korean man walks near a big screen on a street near a residential complex which is lit at night in Pyongyang, North Korea. (Photo: RFA)

Published: August 24, 2023 12:06 PM GMT
Updated: August 24, 2023 12:14 PM GMT

The situation of ordinary people in North Korea is worsening amid increasing violence, including murders attributed to a deteriorating food crisis, starvation, and economic instability, says a report.

Residents in North Hamgyong province pointed out that the random day and night police patrols to reduce criminal activity were “ineffective,” Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported on Aug. 23.

“Judicial authorities are strengthening controls by mobilizing special riot police, inspection teams, and police officers to crack down on residents’ passage at night, but criminal acts are not decreasing,” an unnamed resident said.

Following the increase in the number of violent crimes, the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, the highest body of the communist regime, ordered judicial authorities to use all available resources to tackle the problem.

The committee had noted that tackling the problem was challenging as “people’s personalities have become very sensitive due to difficult living conditions,” the resident said.

Residents say that these measures are ineffective and “violent criminal acts are not decreasing” as expected. They also pointed out cases in which murders happened for simple matters such as food and lodging charges.

“Last month, while staying at a friend’s house to earn some money in Kyongsong county, a man stabbed the friend in the stomach with a knife because the friend asked him to pay for lodging and meals,” an unnamed resident said.

“Cases of injuring people with weapons like this are increasing recently,” the resident lamented.

Residents have also reported a case where a thief was stabbed to death while attempting to steal a cell phone from a drunk man sleeping in a park.

Media reports say the rise in crimes over seemingly trivial issues is stemming from food shortage and poverty in the country.

“The reason why the number of these cases – murder using a weapon after a trivial argument – is increasing recently is that life is becoming more difficult day by day,” the resident said.

In May, South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) reported that North Korea would fall short of around 800,000 tons of rice this year — a situation that has been triggered by droughts in the country.

The UN Human Rights Council reported that around 42 percent of the country’s population is malnourished due to food shortages.

Most people refrain from venturing out in the dark to avoid getting mugged or even killed, reports say.

“The difficulties have led to emotional outbursts. Now, residents are constantly anxious and reluctant to go out, especially when it gets dark,” the resident further added.

In May, North Korea’s National Intelligence Service reported to the National Assembly Intelligence Committee that violent crimes in the country had tripled compared to the same period last year, while the country’s suicide rate increased by 40 percent.

According to South Korea’s National Intelligence Service, the number of people who died of starvation in North Korea from January to July this year more than doubled compared to the average over the past five years, RFA reported.

A similar situation prevails in Ryanggang province, residents say.

“A few days ago, a person who was arguing over a trivial matter on the road took out a knife he had already been carrying and stabbed another person’s leg and body, causing injuries,” an unnamed resident said.

“There are so many criminal acts involving weapons that people are afraid to even speak face to face,” the resident further added.

The resident pointed out that the school children have also begun to behave violently prompting school authorities to conduct inspections of students’ bags and other belongings.

“But these projects are only temporary measures, and there is a limit to eliminating [the crimes], no matter how much the judicial authorities try to control them,” the resident said.

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