The popularity of the Netflix series Squid Game has cost a North Korean citizen his life and several others have been sentenced to imprisonment.
According to Radio Free Asia (RFA) a man is said to have brought a copy of Squid Game into North Korea back from China and sold USB flash drives containing the series. Sources said his sentence would be carried out by firing squad.
A student who bought a drive received a life sentence, while six others who watched the show have been sentenced to five years hard labour, and teachers and school administrators have been fired and face banishment to work in remote mines the sources said.
RFA reported that copies of the Netflix hit drama had arrived in the reclusive country despite the best efforts of authorities to keep out foreign media. They began spreading among the people on flash drives and SD cards.
Sources in that report said that the show’s dystopian world in which 456 marginalised people are pitted against one another in traditional children’s games for huge cash prizes and losing players are put to death, resonates with North Koreans in risky occupations and insecure positions.
“This all started last week when a high school student secretly bought a USB flash drive containing the South Korean drama Squid Game and watched it with one of his best friends in class,” a source in law enforcement in North Hamgyong province told RFA’s Korean Service Monday.
“The friend told several other students, who became interested, and they shared the flash drive with them. They were caught by the censors in 109 Sangmu, who had received a tipoff,” said the source, referring to the government strike force that specialises in catching illegal video watchers, known officially as Surveillance Bureau Group 109.
The arrest of the seven students marks the first time that the government is applying the newly passed law on the “Elimination of Reactionary Thought and Culture,” in a case involving minors, according to the source.
The law, passed in December 2020, carries a maximum penalty of death for watching, keeping, or distributing media from capitalist countries, particularly from South Korea and the US.
Squid Game is Netflix’s most-watched show ever, ranked first in 94 countries and viewed in 142 million homes worldwide after only a month, according to the company’s third-quarter earnings report.
The series pulled in a staggering 1.65 billion hours of viewing in 28 days following its premiere on 17 September, according to Netflix.