Kim Jong Un just can’t take a joke. The last time the North Korean dictator found himself on the receiving end of some gentle ribbing, as the subject of James Franco and Seth Rogen’s assassination comedy The Interview, Kim’s repressive regime allegedly hacked Sony Pictures, apparently in retaliation. Now, the absolutist leader is taking his hostility toward humor to a farcical new extreme, banning all sarcasm throughout the Hermit Kingdom in an attempt to crack down on dissent and quash any further laughs at his expense.
The Independent reports that North Korean party officials held several mass meetings across the country in an attempt to warn citizens that criticizing the state via indirect, ironic statements such as “This is all America’s fault” would be illegal and “unacceptable.” And the consequences for disobeying are particularly unfunny: according to the nonprofit group Liberty in North Korea, any criticism of the government—including, apparently, the North Korean version of “Thanks, Obama”—“is enough to make you and your family ‘disappear’ from society and end up in a political prison camp.”
Even common idioms are not safe from the sarcasm crackdown: Radio Free Asia reportedthat, during one of the meetings, the party banned the common expression “a fool who cannot see the outside world,” which the regime believes constitutes criticism of Kim’s refusal to attend international celebrations marking the end of World War II. (Even party officials within the hyper-authoritarian state were reportedly “shocked” by Kim’s decision.)
Ever since the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, the younger, more rotund Kim has been notable for elevating his predecessor’s authoritarianism to disturbing new levels. In the first five years of his rule, Kim reportedly executed seven times the number of people his father executed in his first few years as Supreme Leader. One deputy minister was reportedly burned alive by a flamethrower, and another, a turtle farmer, was shot “to set an example” after he tried to explain why his turtles had died. North Korea has also grown bolder on the international stage, recently firing three ballistic missiles into the sea—the latest of several major missile tests this year—while the G20 economic summit was underway in neighboring China. The successful launches raised alarms, particularly after a previous test missile crashed just moments after takeoff, an embarrassing spectacle for the Kim regime—or, as North Koreans are no longer allowed to say, “This is all America’s fault.”