SEOUL, July 23 (Yonhap) -- North Korea appears to have intensified its crackdown on the use of mobile phones and other digital devices in border regions to prevent the inflow of culture from South Korea, a think tank report showed Friday.
In the annual report on the human rights situation in North Korea, the Korea Institute for National Unification said that such controls are believed to be part of Pyongyang's ongoing efforts to tighten ideological discipline and safeguard socialism among its people.
The report is based on interviews with 50 North Koreans who recently defected to the South, the think tank said.
"The North Korean people usually get access to outside information through mobile phones, but since mid-2019, crackdowns on and punishment for the use of mobile phones in border areas have been beefed up," the report said.
"In particular, crackdowns on and punishment for (holding) recorded materials, records on phone calls and text messages linked to South Korea have been intensified," it added. "This could be understood as part of the recently ramped-up regulation on non-socialistic practices."
In December, the North reenacted a law that toughens punishment for possession of videos made in South Korea as part of efforts to prevent the inflow of outside culture that could influence its people's ideology.
The report also said that North Korea appears to continue to face chronic food shortages and the prolonged economic sanctions are having a "negative" impact on food supplies to its people.
The sanctions, along with the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, are also taking a toll, especially on women, children, the physically challenged and other at-risk groups in North Korea, the report added.
The report said that the defectors' testimonies show fewer public executions in North Korea recently and less mobilization of citizens, which it cited as potential signs of an improvement in overall human rights conditions there, though it noted that more evidence is needed for confirmation.
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