North Koreans have been banned from laughing or drinking for 11 days to mark the tenth anniversary of former leader Kim Jong Il’s death.
Government authorities have ordered the public to not show any signs of happiness while North Korea commemorates his death.
Kim Jong Il ruled North Korea from 1994 until his death in 2011, and was then succeeded by his third and youngest son, current leader Kim Jong Un.
Now, ten years after his death, North Koreans are being forced to observe the 11-day period of mourning where they are not allowed to laugh or drink alcohol.
‘During the mourning period, we must not drink alcohol, laugh or engage in leisure activities,’ a North Korean from the northeastern border city of Sinuiju told Radio Free Asia (RFA).
The source added that North Koreans are not allowed to go grocery shopping on December 17 – the anniversary of Kim Jong Il’s death.
They added: ‘In the past many people who were caught drinking or being intoxicated during the mourning period were arrested and treated as ideological criminals. They were taken away and never seen again.
‘Even if your family member dies during the mourning period, you are not allowed to cry out loud and the body must be taken out after it’s over. People cannot even celebrate their own birthdays if they fall within the mourning period.’
Kim Jong Il died of a heart attack on December 17 2011 at the age of 69 after ruling the country for 17 years in a brutal and repressive dictatorship.
While the mourning period held every year for Kim Jong Il is usually 10 days, this year it will be 11 days to mark the tenth anniversary of his death.
Another source, a resident of the southwestern province of South Hwanghae, said police officers were told to watch for people who fail to look appropriately upset during the mourning period.
They told RFA: ‘From the first day of December, they will have a special duty to crack down on those who harm the mood of collective mourning.
”It’s a month-long special duty for the police. I heard that law enforcement officials cannot sleep at all.’
The source also added that citizens groups and state-owned companies have been ordered to take care of those in poverty during the period of mourning, as the country grapples with a food crisis.
They said: ‘Social order and safety must be ensured, so companies are responsible for collecting food to give to residents and employees who cannot come to work due to food shortages.
‘Residents must also work together to help out the kotjebi [North Korea’s street beggars]. ‘
The anonymous resident added that mourning for Kim Jong Il, and his father Kim Il Sung, is affecting North Korean’s daily lives.
They said: ‘I just hope that the mourning period for Kim Jong Il will be shortened to one week, just like the mourning period for Kim Il Sung.
‘Residents are complaining that the living are forced to mourn these two dead people to death.’
Three generations of the Kim family have ruled North Korea since Kim Il Sung established the country in 1948. When Kim Il Sung died in 1994, his eldest son, Kim Jong Il, inherited power.
Kim Jong Un is the third and youngest son of Kim Jong Il and assumed power upon his father’s death in 2011.
To commemorate the tenth anniversary of Kim Jong Il’s death, various provinces across North Korea are holding exhibitions of his photography and holding concerts in his memory.
‘The old soldiers’ lecture and propaganda team, made up of discharged military officers in their 50s and 60s, are visiting every factory, company and neighborhood watch unit to educate the people about Kim Jong Il’s hard work and dedication,’ a third source told RFA.
A resident from Puryong county said that the lectures and performances had already started where she lives.
She said: ‘They came and sang songs praising Kim Jong Il and held a short lecture about his greatness and achievements.
‘It would probably be a better idea to supply the residents with coal or firewood to get them through the winter rather than lectures and propaganda, which is really about as useful as a talking parrot.’
Impoverished North Korea is under multiple sets of international sanctions over its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes, and has long suffered chronic food shortages.
The country is facing its worst economic crisis for years, hit by both sanctions and its self-imposed coronavirus blockade.
In recent months, pictures of the leader have shown his acute weight loss, ‘playing into Kim’s image of being more accountable to the people’ according to Jenny Town, senior fellow at the Stimson Center.
The official Korean Central Television aired a rare interview of an unnamed citizen saying the people were ‘heartbroken’ over the change in his physique and that ‘everyone just started to cry’ at the sight of Kim.