12/09/2004, 00.00
NORTH KOREA
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Political dissidents risk the death penalty

The regime toughens penalties for crimes against the state because the number of dissidents is on the rise.

Seoul (AsiaNews/Agencies) – In an effort to counter rising political dissent, North Korea has toughened its criminal code and imposed the death penalty for crimes against the state, according to South Korean intelligence sources.

Following revisions to the country's criminal code introduced in April, those found guilty of participating in armed uprisings now face life imprisonment or execution. Previously, they faced ten years in a labour camp.

According to South Korean analysts, the rising number of dissidents and the harsher penalties are directly linked to economic reforms, introduced in the past two years. The phasing out of food rations and the introduction of market pricing have left millions to fend for themselves without state assistance. This has led people to rethink the state's role and reduced their loyalty to the Communist Party.

Economic reforms have also forced an increasing number of North Koreans to cross the border with China in search of food. In recognition of this, defectors for economic and other non-political reasons have seen their sentences reduced from three to two years, whilst those convicted of treason for fleeing abroad for political reasons, face a prison term of more than five years.

News about harsher penalties for crimes against the state are the latest reports coming from North Korea that have fed speculation about political instability in the country.

Many witnesses have seen evidence of a restyling of the Kim Jong-il personality cult. State media have toned down their rhetoric. Areas open to foreigners no longer sport portraits of the 'dear leader' whilst officials posted in China are no longer said to be wearing badges depicting Mr Kim's face.

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