12/16/2021, 17.17
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North Korea executed seven people for watching South Korean videos

According to a report released by the Transitional Justice Working Group, based on interviews with 683 North Korean refugees, at least 27 public executions have been carried out in North Korea since 2011. For experts, the number of executions has dropped under Kim Jong-un to avoid criticism on human rights, but the real figure could be higher.

Seoul (AsiaNews/Agencies) – In the pas ten years, North Korea has carried out at least 27 public executions, this according to the Transitional Justice Working Group (TJWG).

in a report released yesterday, the South Korea-based human rights group provides a map showing where the killings that took place during Kim Jong-un’s rule. This is based on interviews with 683 North Korean refugees who arrived in the South between 1990 and 2019.

According to their statements, between 2011 to 2018, seven people were executed for watching or circulating South Korean videos, five for drug offenses, another five for prostitution, four for human trafficking, three for murder or attempted murder, and three for obscene acts.

The report notes that one platoon carried out most of the executions, with three soldiers firing each three shots at each prisoner.

Over the years, the motives for public executions have changed under the three Kim leaders, Lee Younghwan, executive director of the TJWG, told Radio Free Asia (RFA).

“While many political executions were carried out to seize power during the Kim Il Sung regime, economic difficulties were reflected during the Kim Jong Il regime, where ‘economic executions’ were carried out,” said Lee, referring to Kim Jong Un’s grandfather and father, respectively.

“When North Korea enacted the Law on Rejection of Reactionary Thought and Culture last year, it legalised execution on charges of watching South Korean videos, and these executions have started up. Executions for watching videos is unacceptable from an international point of view,” he added.

“Pyongyang regards the influence of South Korean popular culture and its portrayal of higher standards of living in the South as an existential threat to the North Korean system,” said Kevin Gray, a professor at the University of Sussex, speaking to NK News.

For Gray, consuming South Korean media “may test the foundations of the regime” in ways that other crimes do not. 

Relatives of the accused are often forced to attend summary executions amid large crowds, TJWG notes.

Yet, “One interviewee stated that [while] public killings used to be open to a large crowd, [. . .] in recent years, the viewing of the executions seemed to be reserved for groups affiliated with the organization the accused comes from, such as their workplace,” the TJWG report reads.

The latter goes on to claim that North Korean authorities have beefed up security in the places where executions take place, possibly to prevent videos from being be made and leaked.

During a public execution in June 2014, for example, a refugee saw “several military vehicles with spinning devices on top of them, which the interviewee suspected to be some sort of communication detection equipment.”

Another notable change under Kim Jong-un is the growing use of amnesties.

“From 2012 to 2015, a number of testimonies suggested that Kim Jong-un tried to create a public image as a benevolent leader through pardons. One interviewee witnessed 16 individuals on trial at one time in Pyongyang in 2012 or 2013,” the report says.

These new factors, combined with the apparent drop in the number of public executions in recent years, suggest a greater attention by the communist regime to human rights investigations on its territory,

“It appears that North Korea has made these changes as a mid-way solution between getting immense criticism from the outside and the fact that they can’t get rid of the practice – which aims to control its people,” said Han Myung- sub, a lawyer with the Seoul-based Hanmi law firm. 

In recent years, Pyongyang has put an end to executions along its borders and in places that can be identified by satellites.

This is not to say that no executions took place after 2018, quite the opposite; analysts agree that the number of killings could be much higher.

“These results suggest that the Kim Jong Un regime is paying more attention to strengthening international surveillance of the human rights situation,” TJWG researcher Pak Ahyeong told RFA.

“But this does not imply improvement in the human rights situation in North Korea. Private executions … should be closely monitored.”

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