‘Squid Game’: Why the K-Drama Is Banned in North Korea Amid Smuggler’s Reported Death Sentence

Squid Game has taken over news sites again but not because of the Korean drama’s initial claim to fame. An individual has been reportedly given the death sentence for smuggling and distributing banned copies of Squid Game in North Korea. A USB copy of the K-drama was sold to a high school student and watched by some of his peers. Under a new North Korean law, smuggling banned media from outside countries had dire and life-threatening consequences.

'Squid Game' red guards standing in a group in relation to North Korea article
Red jumpsuit guards from ‘Squid Game’ | via Netflix

A high school student secretly obtained a USB copy of ‘Squid Game’

According to sources who spoke with Radio Free Asia, a North Korean smuggler managed to sneak in a copy of Hwang Dong-hyuk’s acclaimed K-drama from China. A law enforcement source in North Hamgyong province reported to RFA a high school student purchased a USB. The North Korean student watched Squid Game with his best friend and shared the information with other students.

The Surveillance Bureau Group 109 received a tipoff and arrested the high school student and six others. The Surveillance Bureau Group 109 is a strike force that specializes in obtaining illegal media and watchers. The smuggler is reportedly sentenced to death by a firing squad. For purchasing and watching the USB drive, the high school student was given a life sentence.

The remaining six students received five years of hard labor. “Rumors are circulating that among the seven arrested students, one with rich parents was able to avoid punishment because they bribed the authorities with U.S. $3,000,” according to a source who spoke with RFA.

Why is ‘Squid Game’ banned in North Korea?

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The drastic punishment on the smuggler and the high schoolers is due to a new North Korean law. North Korea passed a law on the “Elimination of Reactionary Thought and Culture” last year. RFA reports content like Squid Game or the “watching, possession or distribution of media from capitalist countries like South Korea and the US” is prohibited in North Korea.

If caught under the new law, the maximum punishment is death. Many residents and sources told RFA that the students’ and smugglers’ punishments are only the beginning. “A lengthy investigation would reveal the chain of distribution as each new person under investigation would be forced to tell where they got their copy from and who else they shared it with,” said RFA.

The new North Korean law is not the only reason officials are cracking down on the distribution of foreign media. According to sources, the K-drama reportedly depicts real-life circumstances in the country.

‘Squid Game’s’ dystopian world parallels reality in North Korea

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Sources that reported to RFA stated the content and storyline of Squid Game posed an even bigger dilemma than just the new law. The source explained Squid Game’s storyline parallels North Korea’s society. The players pitted against one another in childhood games for a cash prize “resonates with North Koreans in risky occupations and insecure positions.”

Director Hwang developed Squid Game after 10 years and faced his own financial struggles. The K-dram’s message shined a light on the class gap between the rich and poor and a broken capitalist society. According to The New York Post, a source told RFA the K-drama’s content is “similar to the lives of Pyongyang officials who fight in the foreign currency market as if it is a fight for life and death.”

The source also explains its brutality, and violent scenes also draw in Pyongyang’s youth. North Korea’s new law is only one side of the story as Squid Game’s premise, and its message is what the law was trying to prevent.