Public executions in North Korea? Report raises fear of new repression (+video)(Read article summary)
A South Korean newspaper reports that dozens have been executed in North Korea; in at least one case, in front of 10,000. If true, it could signal a new wave of repression for the brutal regime.
North Koreaâ€™s brutal and secretive regime may have unleashed a new wave of repression, executing dozens of people in public spectacles in seven cities last week, according to a report in a major South Korean newspaper Tuesday.Â
The report in JoongAng Ilbo was sourced to a single, unidentified person described as someone â€śfamiliar with internal affairs in the North who recently visited the country,â€ť and, as with most events concerning North Korea, was impossible to independently confirm. But a group of North Korean defectors living in South Korea partially confirmed the account, giving it more credence.
If true, the crackdown would be one of the most severe such event to have taken place in the two years since Kim Jong-un became leader. The public nature of last weekâ€™s acts may signal Pyongyangâ€™s growing resolve to tamp any sentiments to Western and South Korean culture enabled by technological change and North Koreaâ€™s own economic initiatives.
JoongAng Ilbo said that many of the alleged executions were intended to demonstrate on a massive scale the punishment for watching unsanctioned foreign films and distributing pornography, the two most common transgressions.
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.Â
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.
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. Â
The timing and locations of the coordinated executions may be indicative of the regimeâ€™s goals, the paper said:
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.Â
The newspaperâ€™s report was corroborated by the web-based North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity, which is run by defectors from the North. The organizationÂ toldÂ Agence France-Presse that its own anonymous sources had warned of a wave of repressions several months ago
The choice of Wonsan and six other cities may hint at the rationale behind the governmentâ€™s actions, analysts said. Wonsan has recentlyÂ made headlinesÂ as the site of North Koreaâ€™s large-scale effort to lure foreign investment, featuring a free economic zone, luxury beachfront hotels, and even a nearby Western-style ski resort, all under construction.Â The capital Pyongyang was likely avoided because of the presence of foreign diplomats and some foreign media.
Other cities where executions may have also taken place, according to JoongAng Ilboâ€™s report, are the port city of Chongjin, an industrial hub with a large Chinese presence, and Pyongsong, a former closed city located an hourâ€™s drive from the capital that was recently open to tourists.Â
It is possible that the reported crackdown had been triggered by the governmentâ€™s growing unease at the trickle of cultural influence brought in by Koreaâ€™s tentative pace of economic development, observers said.
â€śThe regime is obviously afraid of potential changes in people's mindsets and is preemptively trying to scare people off,â€ť a representative of North Korea Intellectuals SolidarityÂ toldÂ AFP.
Tuesdayâ€™s report recalled other publicized executions of recent years, such as the rumoredÂ putting to deathÂ of nine Unhasu Orchestra performers, including Kim Jong-unâ€™s former girlfriend, for pornography-related crimes. But this most recent report signals that the campaign against foreign cultural influence is reaching fever pitch.
â€śReports on public executions across the country would be certain to have a chilling effect on the rest of the people,â€ť Daniel Pinkston, a North Korea analyst with the International Crisis Group in Seoul,Â toldÂ The Telegraph. â€śAll these people want to do is to survive and for their families to survive. The incentives for not breaking the law are very clear now.â€ť