JOKE'S ON WHO?

Kim Jong-un, catching on that not all praise is genuine, is trying to curb sarcasm

Obsession
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Obsession
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Irony has no place in the hermit kingdom.

North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is sending a clear message his people: Praise me well, or say nothing at all. Central government authorities have reportedly been holding mass meetings in various parts of the country to warn people against making sarcastic remarks about the regime and its supreme leader, according to a nonprofit news organization Radio Free Asia (RFA).

Having already curbed free speech, the government has now caught on to dissent in the form of sarcasm. In the latest round of cautionary meetings, it was made apparent that subtle digs at the regime are no longer permissible. “One state security official personally organized a meeting to alert local residents to potential ‘hostile actions’ by internal rebellious elements,” a source in the Jagang province, which lies along the border with China, told RFA.

Officials pointed to the phrase “this is all America’s fault” as an example of sarcasm it doesn’t want uttered. It’s common for North Koreans to use the phrase ironically to criticize the country’s leadership. Another blacklisted phrase is “a fool who cannot see the outside world,” which government workers in the capital city Pyongyang had used to describe Kim Jong-un because he was absent at celebrations in Russia and China marking the end of World War II.

North Korea already has a notorious reputation when it comes to human rights violations—the UN even likened the totalitarian regime to Nazi rule. “Criticism of the regime or the leadership in North Korea, if reported, is enough to make you and your family ‘disappear’ from society and end up in a political prison camp,” said Liberty in North Korea, a US and South Korea-based nonprofit, on its website. The country is also widely known for its censorship attempts: All foreign media is either barred or strictly supervised, and the only source of news and information for the local people is North Korean Central News Agency.

The hard-line regime is attempting to shelve satire amid slivers of rebellion. Recently, diplomats and other North Koreans working overseas for the country have defected from their posts. Inside the isolated country, too, there have been acts of defiance: In Pyongyang, leaflets and graffiti denouncing Kim Jong-un cropped up earlier this year. Almost a year ago, propaganda posters from Korean Workers’ Party were allegedly defaced by resentful citizens.

Read this next: Thanks to sanctions and Kim Jong-un’s brutality, more people are defecting from North Korea

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