The North Korean authorities have recently announced that judicial institutions should refrain from warrantless arrests and brutal punishments. Following the instructions, security agents are reportedly reducing the number of house searches and restrictions on residents.
"Recently, the authorities have issued an instruction to judicial organizations including the Ministry of State Security [MSS] (equivalent to South Korea's National Intelligence Service), saying that the restrictions and crackdowns on residents conducted by agents have not been in accordance with the intentions of the Party and that they should cooperate in consolidating with the Party and the people,” a source from South Hamgyong Province told Daily NK on April 24.
"The instructions also stated that even if the suspect owns a weapon or explosives, warrantless house search cannot be permitted because it estranges people from the Party. For this reason, security agents have not been conducting many house searches in recent days."
The regime previously let the judicial organizations wield absolute power, but resistance from the people has become intense recently, so the regime is changing tack.
In addition, as US President Donald Trump ratchets up rhetorical tension against North Korea and Chinese media suggests Beijing could halt the supply of crude oil to Pyongyang, the regime may also be trying to prevent internal unrest.
In particular, assigning blame for the shortcomings of the state to its officials is a typical method used by the North Korean regime. Propaganda campaigns have previously declared that "high-ranking cadres are responsible for every misdeed, not the state." This has followed with severe punishment of officials who are forced to take the blame.
However, according to a source in Ryanggang Province, the primary issue is that the morale of MSS agents (who are the enforcers of regime security) is falling. She added that agents who have seen their powers curtailed due to the regime's strategy are becoming less enthusiastic about participating in demonstrations of loyalty to the regime.
"A flurry of cadres were purged for being anti-Party and anti-revolutionary elements even though they were only following orders, so many now want to stay under the radar. Those who showed excessive loyalty all got into trouble, so who would still want to follow him (Kim Jong Un) closely anymore?" the source concluded.