Kim Jong-un waging war on slang, jeans and foreign films

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the 20th Enlarged Meeting of the Political Bureau of the 7th Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK), in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this undated photo released on November 16, 2020 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA.

North Korea has recently introduced a sweeping new law that seeks to stamp out any kind of foreign influence – harshly punishing anyone caught with foreign films, clothing or even using slang. But why?

Yoon Mi-so says she was 11 when she first saw a man executed for being caught with a South Korean drama.

His entire neighbourhood was ordered to watch.

“If you didn’t, it would be classed as treason,” she told the BBC from her home in Seoul.

The North Korean guards were making sure everyone knew the penalty for smuggling illicit videos was death.

“I have a strong memory of the man who was blindfolded, I can still see his tears flow down. That was traumatic for me. The blindfold was completely drenched in his tears.

“They put him on a stake and bound him, then shot him.”

‘A war without weapons’

Imagine being in a constant state of lockdown with no internet, no social media and only a few state controlled television channels designed to tell you what the country’s leaders want you to hear – this is life in North Korea.

And now its leader Kim Jong-Un has clamped down further, introducing a sweeping new law against what the regime describes as “reactionary thought”.

Anyone caught with large amounts of media from South Korea, the United States or Japan now faces the death penalty. Those caught watching face prison camp for 15 years.

And it’s not just about what people watch.

Recently, Mr Kim wrote a letter in state media calling on the country’s Youth League to crack down on “unsavoury, individualistic, anti-socialist behaviour” among young people. He wants to stop foreign speech, hairstyles and clothes which he described as “dangerous poisons”.

The Daily NK, an online publication in Seoul with sources in North Korea, reported that three teenagers had been sent to a re-education camp for cutting their hair like K-pop idols and hemming their trousers above their ankles. The BBC cannot verify this account.

All this is because Mr Kim is in a war that does not involve nuclear weapons or missiles.

Analysts say he is trying to stop outside information reaching the people of North Korea as life in the country becomes increasingly difficult.

Millions of people are thought to be going hungry. Mr Kim wants to ensure they are still being fed the state’s carefully crafted propaganda, rather than gaining glimpses of life according to glitzy K-dramas set south of the border in Seoul, one of Asia’s richest cities.