In the past year, North Korea came under international criticism when details of gulag-like prisons leaked out from defectors. Although the world reacted in horror as those details included the familiar stories of loved ones disappearing mysteriously in true Stalinist fashion, little international momentum was gained.
The latest human rights violations from North Korea might change that. Fox News and the AFP cite a South Korean conservative paper, the JoongAng Ilbo, as reporting on Nov. 3 that 80 people were executed for offenses that ranged from owning the Holy Bible to watching Desperate Housewives.
The JoongAng Ilbo's source remains a single anonymous North Korean official, said to be familiar with the country's internal affairs and recently returned to the South; the source claimed that executions were carried out simultaneously across seven cities. The families and relatives of those executed were sent to prison camps.
According to the source, in the port city of Wonsan, 10,000 people were gathered by the police in Shinpoong Stadium to watch eight people be shot by a firing squad. Fox News reports their crimes as: viewing and/or trafficking South Korean dramatic television; prostitution; and possession of the Bible.
The AFP noted that Wonsan and Pyongsong (where executions also took place) are designated as special economic zones that specifically attract foreign money to boost the lackluster economy. Otherwise, the executions could be a North Korean government effort to dampen capitalistic enthusiasm and increase repression efforts.
Some experts, and some North Korean locals, have perpetuated rumors that the executions are part of a terror campaign from Kim Jong-un directly. They believe November's killings are connected with the earlier executions of the Unhasu Orchestra, to which Kim's wife, First Lady Ri Sol-ju, formerly belonged.
The fact that no executions took place in North Korea's capital city, Pyongyang, lends support to these rumors. Instead of perpetuating violence in a city where he needs the support of the elite, Kim seems content to build luxurious facilities and a water park.
The following video was posted earlier this year, but was likely recorded any time in the last 10 years; it features a North Korean public execution (with subtitles), and it is not for the faint of heart: