Public executions seen in 7 North Korea cities
Some 80 people were publicly executed earlier this month in seven cities in North Korea excluding Pyongyang, the first known large-scale public executions by the Kim Jong-un regime, the JoongAng Ilbo reported.
The executions occurred on Sunday, Nov. 3, according to a source familiar with internal affairs in the North who recently visited the country.
The people were executed for relatively light transgressions such as watching South Korean movies or distributing pornography.
About 10 people were killed in each city, which included Wonsan in Kangwon Province, Chongjin in North Hamgyong Province, Sariwon in North Hwanghae Province and Pyongsong in South Pyongan.
In Wonsan, eight people were tied to a stakes at a local stadium, had their heads covered with white sacks and were shot with a machine gun, according to the source.
According to witnesses of the execution, the source said, Wonsan authorities gathered some 10,000 people, including children, at Shinpoong Stadium, which has a capacity of 30,000 people, and forced them to watch.
“I heard from the residents that they watched in terror as the corpses were riddled by machine-gun fire that they were hard to identify afterwards.”
The Wonsan victims were mostly charged with watching or illegally trafficking South Korean videos, being involved in prostitution or being in possession of a Bible.
Accomplices or relatives of the executed people who were implicated in their alleged crimes were sent to prison camps.
The reason for the executions wasn’t immediately clear. They seem to have occurred in cities that are centers of economic development, according to a government official.
Wonsan is a port city that Kim is planning to transform into a tourist destination by constructing vacation facilities such as hotels, an airport and a ski resort on Mount Masik.
The idea that executions would be held simultaneously on a weekend in seven cities suggests an extreme measure by the central government to stamp out public unrest or capitalistic zeal accompanying its development projects.
The victims seem to be guilty of crimes related to South Korea – like watching South Korean films – or accused of corruption of public morals, especially sexual misconduct.
North Korean law allows executions for conspiring to overthrow the government, treason and terrorism. But North Korea has also been known to order public executions for minor crimes such as religious activism, use of cell phones and stealing food to intimidate the public.
Some analysts wondered if the executions were related to earlier executions of members of the Unhasu Orchestra, a state-run orchestra that First Lady Ri Sol-ju used to sing in.
On Sept. 21, Japan’s Asahi Shimbun reported that nine Unhasu Orchestra members were executed for filming themselves having sex and selling the films as pornography.
North Korean authorities launched a probe into the scandal, a South Korean government official familiar with North Korean affairs said, and they found that Ri was also involved in the case.
They executed all of the people involved in the scandal in order to quell any suspicions about her.
When the Unhasu members were questioned by officials, they reportedly said, “Ri Sol-ju also loved to play like us.”
The source said, “As the news that people were brutally killed in public executions spread in the countryside, the people have been spreading rumors that say that Kim Jong-un has started a terror campaign in response to the Ri Sol-ju’s pornography scandal.”
But there were no executions in the capital of Pyongyang, where Kim relies on the support of the country’s elite class. He continues to build luxury and recreational facilities in the capital, such as a new water park.
Ahn Chan-il, a defector-turned-analyst at the World North Korea Research Center, said, “It is the beginning of the Kim Jong-un-style of governance, buying the favor of the privileged class of North Korea in Pyongyang.”
BY LEE YOUNG-JONG [firstname.lastname@example.org]