The extraordinary tit-for-tat actions between the two countries come amid North Korean fury at Malaysia’s ongoing investigation into Kim Jong-nam’s death at a Kuala Lumpur airport.
The North Korean leader’s half-brother was killed with a potent nerve agent.
Malaysia has not directly blamed the North for this, but there is widespread suspicion Pyongyang was responsible.
North Korea has fiercely denied any accusations of culpability and the row over the killing – and who has the right to claim Kim’s body – has rapidly escalated over the past two weeks.
Both Malaysia and North Korea have already expelled each other’s ambassadors.
The state news agency KCNA said today that “all Malaysian nationals in the DPRK will be temporarily prohibited from leaving the country until the incident that happened in Malaysia is properly solved”.
It said this was to ensure the safety of its citizens and diplomats in Malaysia. However Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak responding furiously said it was an “abhorrent act” which was “in total disregard of all international law and diplomatic norms”.
He said in a statement that Malaysians were effectively being held hostage in North Korea.
Such actions are highly unusual as under Article 13 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, “everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country”.
The ban also breaks the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which both countries have ratified.