Rangoon Police Launch Video Shop Crackdown After North Korean Pressure

By Bone Myat 14 January 2015

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — Rangoon Police have moved to charge distributors and seize copies of satirical comedy film The Interview, which depicts an assassination plot against North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, following pressure from the North Korean Embassy.

After a meeting of Rangoon Division Chief Minister Myint Swe and North Korean ambassador Mr Kim Sok Chol on Sunday, the embassy sent a facsimile to the divisional government requesting “proper action immediately to stop the copying, distributing and selling” of The Interview in Rangoon, according to a document seen by The Irrawaddy. The office of the Rangoon Division government refused to comment when asked about the message.

Two movie stores in Botahtaung and Latha Township were named in the message as distributors of the film, including the M2M Shop on Latha Bounkyi Street, which was raided on Monday by township police officers who seized over 180 copies of foreign films.

“The seizure is part of the regular crackdown on uncensored films, and The Interview was among the foreign films seized,” said Latha Township deputy police chief Kyaw Kyaw Aung, who said the raid was a response to complaints. “The owner of the shop has now been charged under the Video Act.”

The junta-era 1996 Television and Video Act prevents the illegal copying of films and the distribution of films contrary to censorship directives, with a maximum penalty of three years imprisonment or a fine of 100,000 kyats (US$97).

Other movie sellers have shut their doors this week, with shop owners in Yuzana Plaza and Kyauktada Township telling The Irrawaddy they had been warned of possible arrest if found with copies of The Interview in their possession.

Nonetheless, copies of The Interview remain freely available in the streets of Rangoon for 500 kyats (US$0.49).

Released by a subsidiary of Sony Pictures Entertainment, The Interview depicts two American journalists, played by Seth Rogen and James Franco, who are coerced by the United States government into assassinating North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-un.

Referred to by the North Korean Embassy’s facsimile as a “psychological plot” movie, Sony Pictures initially pulled the film after the company’s computer networks were compromised, allegedly by state-sponsored North Korean hackers. The film has since been screened in the US, but Sony has stated that the film will not receive a public release in the Asia-Pacific region outside of Australia and New Zealand.

The North Korean Embassy in Rangoon was sought for comment.

Additional Reporting by Nyein Nyein.