South Korea (14th June, 2019): A South Korean NGO acknowledges the fact that it pointed out 318 sites in North Korea that are under use by the regime to carry out public executions.
According to reports, the Transitional Justice Working Group has interviewed approximately 610 North Korean defectors over a period of four years for its report.
In its report, it has documented decades of killings, for offences that are ranging from stealing a cow to watching South Korean Television. These public executions usually take place near rivers, fields, markets, schools, and sports grounds, the rights group claimed in its report.
1000’s or more would gather to watch these horrific executions, the NGO reported in its report, “Mapping the fate of the dead”, released on Tuesday.
The report further claims that family members of those sentenced to death, including children, were sometimes forced to watch the event. Furthermore, the bodies of the deceased and burial locations of those killed were rarely given to their relatives.
The youngest person to witness a horrific public killing in the recent past was seven years old, according to testimony.
Public executions have also taken place inside detention facilities such as prisons and labour camps – where people who are convicted of political crimes are forced into physical work such as mining and logging. One defector who was reportedly held in a labour camp in the early 2000s, described how approximately 80 inmates were made to watch the killing of three women charged with trying to escape to China. According to sources, they said a Ministry of People’s Security officer told the crowd: “This could happen to you.”
The report claimed that these executions are a crucial method, employed by the North Korean government, of “inciting fear” and “deterring” citizens from engaging in activities which are considered “undesirable by the regime”.
The vast majority of executions happen by firing squad, defectors said. This often involves three shooters firing three rounds each into the body of the condemned person. Some interviewees have cited occasions when those carrying out the execution have appeared to be drunk.
One said that this is because “killing is a hard thing to do emotionally”.
A smaller number of public hangings was also reported, though the NGO said they appeared to have been scaled back or even halted since 2005.
Ethan Shin, one of the report’s authors, has also mentioned that while it seems like the “number of public executions is on a downward trend”, it may also be that Pyongyang may simply be operating with more secrecy as it seeks to gain “recognition as a normal state”.
High-ranking North Korean officials have also been executed in the past. For instance, in 2013, the uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was condemned for treason.
However, reports of these killings are notoriously hard to verify, and have also at times turned out to be untrue.
Moreover, in 2013, popular North Korean singer Hyon Song-wol was alleged to have been publicly executed, with a South Korean newspaper saying she was shot “in a hail of machine gun fire while her orchestra looked on”.
She later reappeared in 2018 as part of a North Korean delegation visiting Seoul ahead of the Winter Olympics.
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