A South Korean newspaper reported on Monday that North Korea publicly executed around 80 people earlier this month, many for watching smuggled South Korean TV shows.
The conservative JoongAng Ilbo cited a single, unidentified source, but at least one North Korean defector group said it had heard rumors that lent credibility to the front-page report.
The source, said to be “familiar” with North Korea’s internal affairs and recently returned from the country, said the executions were carried out in seven cities on November 3.
In the eastern port of Wonsan, the authorities gathered 10,000 people in a sports stadium to watch the execution of eight people by firing squad, the source quoted one eyewitness as saying.
Most were charged with watching illicit South Korean TV dramas.
North Korea publicly executed around 80 people earlier this month, many for watching smuggled South Korean TV shows
Several of the cities, including Wonsan and Pyongsong in the west, have been designated as special economic zones aimed at attracting foreign investment to boost the North’s moribund economy.
The Seoul-based news website, Daily NK, which is run by North Korean defectors and has a wide network of sources, said it had no information on the executions.
But another defector-run website, North Korea Intellectual Solidarity, said its sources had reported several months ago on plans for a wave of public executions.
“The regime is obviously afraid of potential changes in people’s mindsets and is pre-emptively trying to scare people off,” said one website official.
Watching unsanctioned foreign films or TV — especially those from the capitalist South — is a serious offence in North Korea.
However, efforts to control their distribution have been circumvented by technology, with an increasing number being smuggled in on DVDs, flash drives and mp3 players.
As well as South Korean soap operas, US shows like Desperate Housewives are believed to have a small but avid following.
Michael Kirby, the chief of a UN inquiry into human rights abuses in North Korea, says he was “moved to tears” by testimonies of “gross human rights violations”.
Michael Kirby, a retired judge, said the inquiry had “copious evidence” of rights abuses in North Korea.
During the inquiry’s hearings, eyewitnesses described systematic torture, starvation and executions.
North Korea describes the inquiry as “a political plot” and has not given investigators access to the country.
However, the inquiry said that it was not biased against Pyongyang and that it had consistently asked North Korean representatives to take part in public hearings and question witnesses.
The inquiry is the UN’s first-ever human rights investigation into North Korea.
The UN panel interviewed witnesses in South Korea, Japan and the UK, and is conducting hearings in the US on Wednesday and Thursday. It will submit a final report to the UN in March 2014.
“Some of the testimony has been extremely distressing,” Michael Kirby said.
Michael Kirby said the UN inquiry had copious evidence of rights abuses in North Korea
“I am a judge of 35 years experience and I have seen in that time a lot of melancholy court cases which somewhat harden one’s heart.”
“But even in my own case, there have been a number of testimonies which have moved me to tears,” he said.
Some of the atrocities reported included a woman forced to drown her own baby; children imprisoned from birth and starved; and families tortured for watching a foreign soap opera.
Kim Song-ju, a North Korean defector, told the hearing last week about the torture he experienced in a detention camp.
“The North Korean prison guards were telling us that once you get to this prison you’re not human, you’re just like animals,” he said.
Meanwhile, fellow inquiry member Marzuki Darusman said that fewer North Koreans had fled to South Korea in 2013.
In 2013 so far, 1,041 North Koreans had entered South Korea, compared to 1,509 in 2012 and 2,706 in 2011, he said.
“This represents a reversal of the trend of steady increase in the number of annual arrivals since 1998, possibly due to recently tightened border control and increased incidents of refoulement,” he said.
Refoulement refers to the forced return of refugees to their country of origin or another country where they are likely to be persecuted.
North Korean refugees tend to make their journey to South Korea via China, which borders the North. However, China often returns North Korean refugees, ruling them economic migrants.
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North Korea has blasted a report that its leader, Kim Jong-un, gave out copies of Adolf Hitler’s memoir Mein Kampf to officials on his birthday.
The report, from a news website run by North Korean defectors, said that senior officials were given the book as a gift in January.
North Korea has denounced the defectors as “human scum” and threatened to kill them.
Nazi leader Adolf Hitler wrote Mein Kampf in 1924 while in prison.
The book, which translates as My Struggle in English, outlines his early life and racist views.
News portal New Focus International wrote the original report, citing an unnamed North Korean official in China.
“Mentioning that Hitler managed to rebuild Germany in a short time following its defeat in WWI, Kim Jong-un issued an order for the Third Reich to be studied in depth and asked that practical applications be drawn from it,” the source reportedly said.
North Korea has blasted a report that Kim Jong-un gave out copies of Adolf Hitler’s memoir Mein Kampf to officials on his birthday
North Korea’s Ministry of People’s Security, which is responsible for policing, issued an angry response which was carried by the country’s official news agency, KCNA.
It dismissed the report as a “smear campaign” written by “a handful of human scum… moving desperately to deter [North Korea’s] progress”.
The defectors were being used by South Korea and the US, it went on.
The ministry was determined to “physically remove [the] despicable human scum who are committing treason”, the statement added.
The two Koreas remain technically at war after the 1950-53 Korean war ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.
Ties between the two are currently very tense in the wake of Pyongyang’s February 12 nuclear test.
It is estimated that more than 20,000 North Koreans have defected to the South since the 1950s.
However, fleeing North Korea is dangerous, and defectors who are repatriated to North Korea face punishments including labor camps and execution, activists say.
A South Korean court has jailed a North Korean spy reportedly ordered to attack the eldest son of late leader Kim Jong-il, officials say.
The unidentified man, charged with falsely defecting so as to gather information, was jailed for four years.
The man had spent a decade in China tracking down North Korean defectors before coming to the South, the court said.
South Korean media also said he had admitted trying to organise a hit-and-run accident targeting Kim Jong-nam.
The South Korean court said that the 50-year-old man – who has a son who still lives in the North – became a spy after he was threatened by North Korea’s spy agency.
He defected to South Korea this year, citing poverty, but later told investigators that he was a spy.
Local media reports citing prosecutors say the man also admitted he had been told by North Korean authorities to attack Kim Jong-nam.
He reportedly went as far as hiring a taxi driver to run Kim Jong-nam over in 2010, but the plot went no further.
Kim Jong-nam is thought to have fallen out of favor with Kim Jong-il in 2001 after he was caught trying to sneak into Japan using a false passport
Kim Jong-nam is thought to have fallen out of favor with Kim Jong-il in 2001 after he was caught trying to sneak into Japan using a false passport. He told officials that he was planning to visit Tokyo Disneyland.
Bypassed in favor of his youngest half-brother for succession, the eldest son of Kim Jong-il has maintained a low profile overseas. He was quoted by Japanese media in 2011 as saying he opposed ”dynastic succession”.
He was thought to have been living in Macau but media reports indicate he may have moved to Singapore.
The court said that it had taken the spy’s co-operation into consideration. But it said “stern punishment” was required given the extent to which he could have “greatly compromised the country”.
The court added that he “seriously violated human rights of North Korean defectors”, as he was trying to get them to return to their country.