Mobile phone users to be punished as "war criminals" in North Korea

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According to the country's government, North Koreans caught using a mobile phone will be deemed as war criminals and punished accordingly, The Telegraph reports. The same punishment also extends to those attempting to flee the country's borders, an offense that historically has landed one-time offenders in labor camps and repeated offenders a death sentence. 

News of the authoritarian cellphone ban comes during the 100 days following Kim Jong-il's death, North Korea's former leader. The period of 100 days following Kim Jong-il's demise is intended to be a nationally observed length of time for North Koreans to mourn his passing. Meanwhile the deceased leader's son, 29-year old Kim Jong-un, will be working to continuing the dynasty's reign.

It is thought that the ban exists to quell any chance of "Arab Spring" style protests during this transitional and symbolic time. Even so, North Korea's 3G cell phone network is said to impose severe limitations, allowing access to only a handful of nationalist websites and even then, only to a select few.

The country's previous cell phone network was short-lived, abruptly shut down in 2004 without any official explanation. North Korea's current cellular network has been in operation since 2008 and was developed by an Egyptian telecommunications company.

Just a few months ago, North Korea was projected to have over 1 million cell phone users before the the start of 2012. Although that's a large number by most measures, that six digit figure accounts for roughly five percent of the total population. The country's current network reaches about 94 percent of the population, but covers roughly 15 percent of the country's surface area.

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