High-ranking foreign diplomats based in the North Korean capital were this week asked by authorities to stop sharing sensitive photos and video on their social media accounts with “impure intentions,” NK News has learned from multiple informed sources.
A document issued by the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) to diplomats and humanitarian workers on Wednesday, seen by NK News, warned recipients against publishing media on Twitter and Facebook that stood to damage social stability.
Failure to follow the new rules could result in unspecified “measures” in response, DPRK foreign ministry personnel also reportedly told envoys, urging embassy staff to abide by their responsibilities under the Vienna Convention, which lays the rules for diplomacy between nations.
The MFA document cites Article 41 of that convention, which stipulates that diplomats must “respect the laws and regulations of the receiving State,” and accuses some diplomats of “forget[ting] their sense of duty.”
It also says some foreign diplomats have violated North Korea’s “Formality Guidance for the diplomatic corps presiding in the DPRK,” which lays out strict rules for envoys living in the country, and of “unfriendly activities.”
“Activities hampering the development of bilateral relations and the friendship between the people are taking place,” this week’s MFA note says. “It cannot not be pointed out that they are stimulating emotions and causing objections.”
These diplomats, it continues, are “posting the videos taken without consent and pictures taken for impure intentions on Twitter.”
“The DPRK MFA calls attention to the abuses of diplomatic privileges and benefits by some high-level diplomats,” it warns, stressing “that the parties involved will be solely responsible for the negative consequences of the continued persistence of these acts inappropriate to their duty and status.”
The Vienna convention also states that host nations must “permit and protect free communication on the part of the mission for all official purposes,” and a number of ambassadors and embassies use Twitter and Facebook to regularly update followers about going-on inside the country.
Multiple embassies and diplomatic maintain social media accounts from the DPRK, including from countries as diverse as China, Indonesia, India, Mongolia, Pakistan, Sweden, Russia, and the UK.
Among the most prolific is British ambassador Colin Crooks, who regularly uses Twitter to post photos and video of major events in the country to his over 8,000 followers, and Swedish ambassador Joachim Bergström.
Other embassies in the DPRK, too, including Indonesia and India, use the platform, as do several diplomats from Pakistan.
Facebook is also a popular way for embassies to get their message out: Russia’s embassy in Pyongyang frequently uses the platform to share information about bilateral ties, as does Mongolia.
None have so far publicly commented on the new rules, with requests for comment from NK News to several foreign ministries having so far gone unanswered.
It’s unclear what, precisely, has prompted these new restrictions on diplomatic communications, or which foreign envoys may have violated the rules.
This week’s dispatch is not the first time in recent years that North Korean authorities have sought to clamp down on communications by residence diplomats.
2014, for example, saw the DPRK declare that foreign embassies, officials and international NGOs working in country could no longer use WiFi to connect to the internet – a move that’s since been mostly overlooked.
But this week’s note to diplomats comes amid what appears to be a broader crackdown on information sharing in North Korea by the country’s security services.
The July arrest and deportation of Alek Sigley, an Australian student accused of having provided sensitive material to “anti-state” outlets – including NK News – spoke to a growing paranoia in some corners of the North Korean state about what foreigners in-country may be sharing with the outside world.
So, too, North Korea’s behavior during its hosting of a historic inter-Korean football match in Pyongyang in October, when authorities refused to allow any press to accompany the South’s national team nor any locals attend the game.
Revelations also emerged last month that authorities in Pyongyang had physically blocked out the high-rise windows of what appeared to be hundreds of apartments throughout the city center.
In a move believed intended to obscure views of the centrally-located “forbidden city” government complex, photos revealed that the views from those properties had been blocked with opaque covers or one-directional slats.
Jeongmin Kim contributed translation
Featured image: NK News