Criminal Penalties in Korea, North

The North Korean system does not operate according to the rule of law, and foreigners should harbor no expectations regarding due process. Foreign visitors to North Korea may be arrested, detained, or expelled for activities that would not be considered criminal outside North Korea, including involvement in unsanctioned religious and/or political activities (whether those activities took place inside or outside North Korea), unauthorized travel, or unauthorized interaction with the local population. If you do something considered illegal in North Korea, you may be subject to the North Korean judicial system, which is an instrument of state power and not an independent branch of government. Protections guaranteed under the U.S. legal system do not apply, and possession of a U.S. passport does not confer special status. Your local host/liaison may be able to provide useful guidance.

North Korean security personnel may regard as espionage unauthorized or unescorted travel inside North Korea and unauthorized attempts to speak directly with North Korean citizens. North Korean authorities may fine or arrest you for exchanging currency with an unauthorized vendor, for taking unauthorized photographs, or for shopping at stores not designated for foreigners. It is a criminal act in North Korea to show disrespect to the country's current and former leaders – Kim Jong Un, Kim Jong Il, and Kim Il Sung. A near-religious cult surrounds treatment of these individuals, and acts that would be deemed unexceptional elsewhere in the world – e.g., placing in the garbage newspapers bearing their photographs – may be deemed disrespectful.

Although North Korea has granted press visas for cultural or sporting events or visits of foreign leaders, officials watch closely to prevent journalists from talking to ordinary people or questioning the policies, actions, or public statements of North Korea’s leadership. North Korea has confiscated objectionable material from foreign journalists. Journalists who engaged in activities that challenged the regime have been deported, arrested, or detained to face criminal charges.

North Korean government security personnel closely monitor the activities and conversations of foreigners in North Korea. Never bring or handle any material, printed or digital, that could be interpreted as critical of, or hostile to, the country or its leadership. Hotel rooms, telephones, and fax machines may be monitored, and personal possessions in hotel rooms may be searched. Do not take pictures without explicit authorization. North Korean government authorities may view taking unauthorized pictures as espionage, confiscate cameras and film and/or detain the photographer. Persons violating the laws of North Korea, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned.

Engaging in sexual conduct with minors or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.

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