At least 80 people have reportedly been publicly executed for minor offenses throughout North Korea, a South Korean newspaper reported, citing an unnamed source who it said was familiar with internal affairs in the North and had recently visited the isolated country.
The executions were said to be carried out simultaneously on Nov. 3 in seven cities for crimes ranging from watching South Korean movies to distributing pornography to possession of a Bible, JoongAng Ilbo, one of South Korea’s largest newspapers, reported Monday.
The source said authorities in the port city of Wonsan filled a stadium with 10,000 people, including children, to watch eight executions carried out with machine guns, according to the JoongAng Ilbo report.
The mass executions – which occurred about two months after nine Unhasu Orchestra members were reportedly put to death for pornography-related crimes – are believed to amount to the toughest show of force in the country since Kim Jong Un, 30, came to power two years ago after the death of his father, former leader Kim Jong Il.
It is unclear if the reported Nov. 3 executions were related to Unhasu Orchestra case. “(Kim) started a terror campaign” in response to the orchestra scandal, the South Korean newspaper’s source said. Kim’s former girlfriend Hyon Song Wol was a member of the orchestra and was reportedly one of the individuals executed.
The 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," Agence France-Press quoted one official from the website as saying.
Watching unsanctioned foreign films or TV shows – especially those from the capitalist South – is a serious offense 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.
In addition to South Korean soap operas, U.S. shows including “Desperate Housewives” are believed to have a small but avid following in the tightly controlled country.