South Korea-based group Transitional Justice Working Group (TJWG) interviewed 638 North Korean defectors since 2015 in an effort to better map out execution sites and numbers.
The group’s report lists a variety of reported offenses punishable by death, including seven instances of “watching or distributing South Korean videos,” including videos of popular music from South Korea, known as K-pop. The group notes at least one reported example of a man executed for illegally selling CDs and USBs containing South Korean movies, dramas and music videos.
Six of the alleged cases occurred between 2012 and 2014. The report claims that “the families of those being executed were often forced to watch the execution.”
Some cases involved neighborhood group leaders receiving the announcement of an execution ahead of time so they could bring their groups to watch the events. A woman who led one such group said she brought roughly 20 women to watch an execution in 2013.
A graphic description of one such execution included the detail that “people were made to stand in line and look at the executed person in the face as a warning message.”
At least one other death resulted from “alleged relations to South Korea,” defined as “brokering escapees from North Korea,” as well as one case of illegal border crossing.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has defined his reign through consistent attacks against South Korean media, which he labeled a “vicious cancer” and claims will corrupt North Korean minds.
Kim invited a group of K-pop stars to perform in Pyongyang in 2018 during discussions with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. The two-hour concert included performances by Cho Yong-pil, Lee Sun-hee, Yoon Do-hyun, Baek Ji-young and girl band Red Velvet.
Kim reportedly showed “much interest” during the concert, even clapping along with songs and asking questions about the lyrics.
But North Korean media has warned that K-pop’s influence could make the North “crumble like a damp wall” due to their “anti-socialist and nonsocialist” influences.
Other death penalty crimes include drug-related crimes, prostitution, human trafficking, murder or attempted murder and “obscene acts.” TJWG recorded 23 public executions so far since 2012.
TJWG, established in 2014, unites human rights advocates and researchers from five countries to address human rights violations.