04/12/2011, 00.00
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Shot for stealing US$ 20 of corn as public executions are back

by Joseph Yun Li-sun
Sources in North Korea say that four people were executed before Seungho residents, one for stealing less than a litre of oil from a transformer. Former UN rapporteur for North Korea tells AsiaNews that this way people can be intimidated.
Seoul (AsiaNews) – North Korea has begun publicly executing offenders again. The regime sentenced four people to death for petty crimes, one person for stealing about a litre of oil from a transformer, and forced residents in Seungho-district of Pyongyang to watch. “Perhaps the government is scared of the odd protest in the past month and decided to remind everyone who is in charge,” a South Korean source said.

A North Korean refugee who fled to the South reported the executions. According to the Daily North Korean (a website dedicated to Kim Jong-il’s regime), the executions were carried out on 11 December. The four people were convicted for theft, “One of them was for stealing oil from a transformer,” whilst “another stole 50 kilograms of corn”.

“It is important to note how minor the offences were. Until now, only deserters and traitors were executed in public,” the source said.

Fifty kilos of corn sold for US$ 20 on the black market. However, when the decision is made, “nothing can stop it. The offenders are lined up against the wall. They are given a small glass of liquor and then they die.”

In North Korea, 60 people have been executed in public, this according to Amnesty International. However, independent sources say the actual number is higher. What is certain is that Pyongyang is using Mao’s teaching about public security and is forcing people to watch executions to “prevent other crimes”.

Vitit Muntarbhorn, a Thai human rights expert who was the United Nations special rapporteur on North Korea from 2004 to 2010, has confirmed the practice. Speaking to AsiaNews, he said, “North Korea uses public executions to intimidate people. It has also cracked down on international phone calls to prevent news about the food crisis from leaking out.”

Muntarbhorn was never able to get the North Koreans to grant him an entry visa. On personal freedoms, he said that reports to the United Nations General Assembly indicated “a campaign against underground mobile phone calls and TV shows and videos from South Korea”.

However, the most worrisome thing is the “use of public executions to create an atmosphere of panic and intimidation among people.”

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