This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
North Korea has publicly executed three teenagers by firing squad – two for watching and distributing South Korean movies and one for murdering his stepmother – two sources who witnessed it told Radio Free Asia.
The alleged crimes committed by the teens, estimated to be 16 or 17, were equally evil, authorities told terrified residents, who were forced to watch, the sources said.
“They said, ‘Those who watch or distribute South Korean movies and dramas, and those who disrupt social order by murdering other people, will not be forgiven and will be sentenced to the maximum penalty–death,’” a resident of the city of Hyesan, on the border with China, where the execution took place, told RFA’s Korean service.
The execution took place in October at an airfield in the city, the resident said.
“Hyesan residents gathered in groups at the runway,” she said. “The authorities put the teen-aged students in front of the public, sentenced them to death, and immediately shot them.”
Such executions are rare in North Korea, but not unheard-of. Authorities will typically use executions to terrify people into behaving in the way they want them to.
The executions occurred about a week after authorities held public meetings to tell the public that they were going to get tough on crimes involving foreign media, especially from more prosperous and democratic South Korea.
Smuggled in on flash drives
In recent years, South Korean and Western movies, as well as music and TV shows, have spread throughout North Korea on easily concealable USB flash drives and SD cards. Smugglers bring the media into the country from China, and then it is distributed from person to person.
North Korea has become increasingly worried about South Korean culture – viewed as decadent and anti-revolutionary – rubbing off on its youth.
Several RFA reports over the past few years have documented authorities’ efforts to combat it by randomly seizing smartphones and doling out harsh punishments to violators.
Citizens caught watching a foreign movie are to be sent to a disciplinary labor center according to the Hyesan source. If they are caught again, they will be sent to a correctional labor camp for five years along with their parents, who must take responsibility for improperly educating their children.
But if they are caught distributing or selling South Korean movies, they can face the death penalty, even if they are minors, she said.
“Caught in a trap”
The two teenagers who were executed were caught trying to sell thumb drives containing the contraband media in their local marketplace. Officials plant spies among the public who would then report the sellers to the police, the source said.
“The students were caught in a trap this time,” she said.
News of the execution has spread and terrified people, a resident of neighboring North Hamgyong province told RFA on condition of anonymity to speak freely.
“Despite intensive control and crackdowns to eradicate reactionary thought and culture, young people are still caught secretly watching South Korean movies. … So now the authorities are embarking on a reign of terror through public execution,” the second source said.
Law enforcement agencies have ordered that those accused of possessing or distributing impure recordings and publications … must receive swift justice,” she said.
“The likelihood of future public executions is now higher than ever before.”