The North Korean cheerleaders who have become a viral sensation at the Winter Olympics are watched over by ruthless masked minders who stop them from speaking to ordinary people, Dailymail.com can disclose.
The young women’s every move is shadowed by the sinister guards as they are shuttled from venue to venue – and they then form a ring of steel around them during the events at which they appear.
The guards all carry Olympic security accreditation, raising questions over whether the Olympic Committee itself is complicit in the lack of freedom afforded to the troupe of 230 cheerleaders.
Their outings involve lengthy trips from a closely-guarded ski resort where even their outings to restaurants are made in formation.
North Korea’s decision to send the troupe has been seen in some quarters as a propaganda victory, and there is no doubt the cheerleaders have generated fascination across the globe.
Always watching: The North Korean cheerleaders have been kept under the watchful eyes of masked men (circled) during their time at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang
The young women, who quickly became viral sensations after performing their perfectly in-sync moves for the crowds, have their every move shadowed by sinister guards who have been spotted sitting next to them at the games
The oppressive regime has gone to extreme measures to keep the women in check after one cheerleader defected to the South Korea in the past
CNN called them ‘weirdly mesmerizing’ and Vox described them as ‘social media stars.’ The Wall Street Journal called them ‘weapons of mass distraction.’
In reality, however, their every move is guarded carefully by a group of guards who wear masks in an apparent attempt to keep their identities shielded.
The guards are unarmed, having had to give up their guns under Olympic rules, but they are highly trained in martial arts and are members of elite units in their native North Korea.
South Korean security guards are also part of the entourage although, that may be intended to prevent over-reaction by the North Korean guards, who come from a country with no concept of civil liberties.
As well as highly regimented, the cheerleaders are fiercely partisan.
A group who were present for Thursday’s pair skating cheered loudly for North Korea’s Ryom Tae Ok and Kim Ju Sik, but when American skaters Chris and Scimeca Knierim were announced, they sneered and turned their heads.
Each outing of members of the troupe is under the supervision of an older man, who sits to the side.
When he was approached by DailyMail.com, our reporter was hustled away.
Our reporter approached the leader of the troupe at the all-Korean female ice-hockey match against historic rival Japan at the Kwandong Hockey Centre in Pyeongchang on Wednesday.
The troupe was lapping up attention from the world’s media, and spectators stood in line to take pictures of the spectacle.
But the attention is a one-way street and when our reporter approached the leader to ask questions and offer a friendly gesture of a soft drink and snacks, the guards swept in.
‘Move on, move on. You must go now,’ a masked security operative demanded.
The Communist censorship is in breach of Olympics rules which allow reporters to speak to officials freely at venues.
The masked guards are unarmed, having had to give up their guns under Olympic rules, but they are highly trained in martial arts and are members of elite units in their native North Korea
DailyMail.com approached the leader to ask questions and offer a friendly gesture of a soft drink and snacks, but guards quickly swept in
No thanks: The older guard dismissed the reporter and ordered him to ‘move on’
The conduct underlines concerns that Kim Jong-Un’s propaganda arm have been given a victory by Olympic organizers who want to push the cause of peace between North and South Korea, who are officially still at war.
Trips to events – in this case an unsuccessful one, as the united Korea team lost – involve a long coach journey for the women, who are based at an obscure and guarded resort at the Inje Speedium, up to an hour and a half away from the main hub of the Winter Games.
The women have been photographed going to restaurants in the resort, always in formation and with a male guard.
The resort base makes it possible for them to be carefully watched – a necessity for a regime that has previously had a cheerleader defect to South Korea.
And in 2006, 21 members of North Korean cheering squads who traveled to South Korea for sports events were sent to a prison camp for talking about what they saw in the South. The female squad apparently violated a pledge not to speak about what they saw in South Korea.
There is a tough screening process to join the cheer squad. Women must be deemed attractive enough by the state and in their late teens to early 20s. They are said to be picked from Pyongyang universities and upper class families who are loyal to the regime.
There is also a difficult screening process. According to North Korean defectors cited in the media, women need to be over 5’5′. Girls with family members living abroad are automatically disqualified as they are a flight risk.
As well as highly regimented, the cheerleaders are fiercely partisan are were heard cheering loudly for their team but sneered at their opponents. The young women must be in their late teens to early 20s and deemed attractive enough by the state to join the troupe
Most of the women are picked from Pyongyang universities and upper class families who are loyal to the regime. Women must also be over 5’5
The women have been photographed always in formation and with a guard present at all times
The cheerleaders are based at an obscure and guarded resort at the Inje Speedium, located up to an hour and a half away from the main hub of the Winter Games. Above they are seen walking in formation at the resort
The women, who are always dressed in uniform, are transported from venue to venue in a coach. They are often seen smiling and waving, but are reportedly not allowed to speak to ordinary people
The women have been photographed going to restaurants in the resort, always in formation and with a male guard. Above they are seen attending a dinner hosted by South Korea’s Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung