Regulatory policy

North Korea’s cremation policy angers bereaved families

Disease control officials test drivers for symptoms of COVID-19 in Pyongyang’s Manggyongdae district. (Rodong Sinmun)

North Korean authorities in Yanggang Province recently responded to protests by bereaved families over the government’s policy of “unconditionally” cremating those who have died since May 12, when the regime announced a COVID-19 outbreak.

According to a source in the province last Thursday, the Yanggang Province Emergency Anti-Epidemic Command has ordered a more structured system to be established to designate whether people have died from COVID-19 or not.

Specifically, the provincial Department of Social Security has announced that when it receives notification of death through the Department’s Municipal and County Branch Citizen Registration Services, it will only officially recognize COVID-19 as cause of death unless he receives a signature from the organization. treatment team dispatched to the scene.

Briefly, the local government said it would need the signatures of three entities – the inminbanthe hospital in the form of a death certificate and the on-site body treatment team – to recognize COVID-19 as the cause of death, whether the person was quarantined with symptoms of COVID-19 or suffered from symptoms of COVID-19 before death.

The source said the Department of Social Security issued the order due to an atmosphere of intense public discontent.

North Korea had cremated bodies unconditionally based on the country’s emergency quarantine law, while leaving the cause of death undisclosed in most cases. This had drawn public anger as the victims do not appear as COVID-19 deaths in official statistics.

The source said the family of a deceased in Samsu County went to the Department of Social Security ahead of the cremation to protest the way the department cremated the bodies without telling the families what they died of. , and requested information on the exact cause of death of their loved one.

“The family begged the ministry to return the body to them if [their loved one] hadn’t died of COVID-19 and repeatedly asked that they be allowed to at least hold a funeral, but they were rebuffed,” he said.

Outraged at how the government would not return their loved one’s body – and angered by authorities’ refusal to confirm COVID-19 as the cause of death or even include the deceased relative in official statistics on deaths due to COVID – some family members continued to raise the issue until they were eventually jailed for about 10 days for voicing their opposition to state policy.

“The Ministry of Social Security released them after warning them that they would pay a heavy price to resist again, telling them that raising objections to the regulations of the Emergency Quarantine Act during a national quarantine emergency is something done by people who don’t trust the state when times are tough,” the source said.

“People think this is all the result of officials trying to duck their responsibilities by reducing the number of COVID-19 deaths in their reports,” the source continued, adding, “[People] can’t say anything openly, but inside their anger grows.

Translated by David Black. Edited by Robert Lauler.

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