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North Korea has executed at least 7 people for watching South Korean videos, including K-Pop music, rights group says

Dec 16, 2021, 00:29 IST
Business Insider
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspecting military forces.STR/AFP via Getty Images
  • Kim Jong Un's regime has publicly executed at least 23 people, according to a new report.
  • At least 7 people were executed for sharing South Korean media, including K-Pop.

At least seven people have been publicly executed in North Korea for watching or distributing South Korean media, including K-Pop videos, according to a new report from Transitional Justice Working Group, a Seoul-based human rights group.

The report said there have been at least 23 public executions under North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who came to power a decade ago after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il.

The rights group compiled the report, which offers harrowing details, via interviews with hundreds of North Korean defectors.

"Interviewees often stated that the rules on public execution demand that three shooters fire a total of nine bullets into the body of the condemned person," the report said. "The families of those being executed were often forced to watch the execution."

One interviewee said that he witnessed an execution that served as a "warning message from the state," stating, "Even when there was fluid leaking from the condemned person's brain, people were made to stand in line and look at the executed person in the face as a warning message."


Kim, who's waging a culture war and launched a crackdown on foreign influence, has referred to K-Pop as a "vicious cancer." Last December, the North Korean government passed a law that makes it a capital offense to distribute South Korean media, including music and movies. Last month, Radio Free Asia reported that North Korea was set to execute a man by firing squad for smuggling and selling Netflix's hit show "Squid Game."

Amid historic engagement between the US and North Korea in 2018 that also fostered a warming of relations between Seoul and Pyongyang, Kim attended a K-Pop concert in the North Korean capital.

But experts say that Kim shifted to brutally cracking down on South Korean influence after denuclearization talks with the Trump administration fell apart, and as the North Korean economy floundered during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Part of this is trying to reassert the power of the party and trying to re-establish social control in a time of hardship," Jenny Town, a senior fellow at the Stimson Center and the Director of Stimson's 38 North Program, told Insider's Ryan Pickrell in June. "We generally see crackdowns when there is more domestic hardship than usual."

Kim failed to gain much desired sanctions relief from nuclear talks with the US, and there has been little to no movement in terms of starting negotiations back up under the Biden administration.


The North Korean leader is unlikely to see any movement on the sanctions front, however, unless he takes substantive steps toward denuclearization, such as renouncing all nuclear enrichment activities and allowing inspectors into the country. The US last Friday slapped new sanctions on people and entities linked to North Korea — the first aimed at the country during the Biden era — over human rights abuses.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken in comments during a trip to Southeast Asia this week said that the US seeks "serious and sustained diplomacy" with North Korea, underscoring that the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula remains Washington's "ultimate goal."

"We'll work with allies and partners to address the threat posed by the DPRK's nuclear programs through a calibrated, practical approach while also strengthening our extended deterrence," Blinken said.

Park Won Gon, a professor of North Korea studies at Seoul's Ewha Womans University, recently told NPR that North Korea's economic woes could spell trouble for his regime in the long-term.

"The nuclear weapons program, the economy and the stability of the regime are all interconnected. If the nuclear issue doesn't get resolved, the economy doesn't get better, and that opens the possibility of disquiet and confusion in North Korea's society," Park said.

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