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North takes executions behind closed doors

Oct 25,2019
The North appears to have reduced public executions, a North Korean human rights center based in Seoul said Wednesday - but instead, is killing people behind closed doors.

Based on testimony from North Korean defectors who recently escaped, the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights (NKDB), a nongovernmental organization in Jung District, central Seoul, said Wednesday that the regime seems to have cut back on the act of killing offenders out in the open following the shocking purge and public execution of Jang Song-thaek.

Jang, the uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, was once considered the second most powerful man in the regime until he was convicted of treason and executed on Dec. 12, 2013, by antiaircraft machine guns in front of hundreds of North Korean officials.

The human rights center said North Koreans were “shaken” by the death of the influential figure, which might have induced authorities to refrain from carrying out public executions as often.

Yet that doesn’t mean executions aren’t held at all, the NKDB noted.

One defector who fled the North earlier this year was quoted by the center as saying he had rarely heard of public executions lately. But in 2015, when he was locked up in a detention center, the defector said he heard cases of North Korean prison guards covering inmates with a black blanket, quietly escorting them out of the cell and killing them with a “blunt object” from behind as they walked down the hallways.

The NKDB also said North Koreans were still facing human rights violations such as torture, rape, forced prostitution and illegal confinement.

Another North Korean defector from North Hamgyong Province in the northeast part of the country said she was raped while locked up in a detention center after getting caught trying to flee the country.

A third North Korean defector who also lived in North Hamgyong Province described the dire conditions of the North Korean military, saying she dropped from 53 kilograms (117 pounds) to 43 kilograms because there was barely anything to eat.

“There were many people who weighed just 30-something kilograms,” the defector said on the condition of anonymity. “For three months during boot camp training, we would mix only water, whole wheat flour and some vegetables. It was so hard for me, I used to vomit.”

One key change in the ways North Korean people perceive such cruel acts by the North’s authorities, however, is that they now know their human rights are being violated, said Kim So-won, a researcher at NKDB. Kim attributed the cause of such change to the rise of black markets, known as jangmadang, pointing out that information from the outer world is spreading in those markets along the border.

BY KWEN YU-JIN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]


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