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Strengthening ‘Social Order’ Through Public Execution: North Korea

"The policy of regularly carrying out public executions serves to instill fear in the general population," said the report, based on extensive interviews with defectors from the North.

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A monument in Pyongyang to North Korea's ruling Korean Workers' Party is shown in a file photo. RFA

North Korean authorities staged a public trial and shot two female fortune tellers to death last month, forcing tens of thousands of people to watch, in what appeared to be a resumption of public executions.

The executions of the two women took place in March in North Hamgyong’s Chongjin city, and were aimed at forcing officials to stop patronizing fortune tellers and engaging in other “superstitious” behavior, according to two sources who spoke to RFA’s Korean Service on condition of anonymity.

“Public trials and executions have resumed this year, with judicial authorities holding these trials in multiple locations for reasons of maintaining social order,” a source in North Hamgyong province, bordering China, told RFA’s Korean Service.

The public executions “shocked” city residents, RFA’s source said.

“They pronounced sentences of death and carried out public executions immediately,” the source said, adding that two of the three women put on trial were executed by shooting, with the third sentenced to life in prison.

“Tens of thousands of people from factories, colleges, and housing units from Chongjin were forced to attend the public trail in March,” added the source.

The three had created a group called Chilsungjo (Seven Star Group) to carry out what authorities described as “superstitious activities,” the source said.

“They had used a three-year-old and five-year-old child to carry out their activities, claiming that the children were possessed by a spirit oracle and receiving money for telling fortunes,” he said.

UN
U.N. Nikki Haley was quoted by Reuters and other news agencies as saying that “defectors have reported that all North Koreans, ages 12 and older, are required to attend public executions—a graphic reminder of consequences of disobedience of the government.” Pixabay

It is now common in North Korea for people to consult fortune tellers before planning weddings or making business deals, or considering other important decisions in their lives, the source said, adding, “Even high-ranking government officials and the families of judicial authorities often visit fortune tellers.”

Making an example

Also speaking to RFA, a second source in North Hamgyong said that government concerns over the involvement of high-ranking officials in “superstitious” activities has caused authorities to make an example of those caught telling fortunes.

“The Central Committee has emphasized the elimination of anti-socialist behavior and the preservation of social order, but it is hard to find residents who will follow these orders,” the source said.

“People fear that they will starve to death if they live by the law, so it is no exaggeration to say that illegal activities have now become common.”

In February, authorities held an unusual open trial in Chongjin’s Pohang district for middle school students aged from 15 to 16 who had organized themselves into groups of two to three to carry out robberies at night, the source said.

“They acted violently against residents and stole anything that they thought would earn them money. The atmosphere became uneasy in the area at night, and it was hard for a time to find people walking around after dark.”

Because the accused were minors, they were spared harsh sentences, the source said.

“But the adults tried in public are being sentenced to death, or at least receive life sentences, so the residents are living in fear,” he said.

Numbers unclear

Accurate statistics on North Korea’s use of the death penalty are hard to find.

In February, RFA’s Korean Service reported that a Seoul-based North Korean defector-led NGO had detailed that the Kim Jong Un regime had purged 421 officials since 2010 to consolidate power around Kim.

The report, “Executions and Purges of North Korean Elites: An Investigation into Genocide Based on High-Ranking Officials’ Testimonies,” by the North Korean Strategy Center, collected accounts by 14 North Korean elite group defectors, six North Korean officials in China, and five other defectors who witnessed executions.

The report notes the well-known case of Kim’s uncle Jang Song Thaek, a top official who was executed in 2013, and says that “more than 15 people were killed and 400 others were purged.

At a U.N. Security Council session on North Korea’s human rights situation in December 2017, then U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley was quoted by Reuters and other news agencies as saying that “defectors have reported that all North Koreans, ages 12 and older, are required to attend public executions—a graphic reminder of consequences of disobedience of the government.” she said.

execution
The public executions “shocked” city residents, RFA’s source said. Pixabay

In a landmark report in 2014, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea found that “as a matter of state policy, the authorities carry out executions, with or without trial, publicly or secretly, in response to political and other crimes that are often not among the most serious crimes.”

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“The policy of regularly carrying out public executions serves to instill fear in the general population,” said the report, based on extensive interviews with defectors from the North.

The UN report said that while public executions “were most common in the 1990s,” they continued up until the time of the landmark report’s release in 2014, and that 2013 saw a “spike in the number of politically motivated public executions.” (RFA)

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Trump Defends Kim, Downplays Concern About North Korea

U.S. President Donald Trump and his national security adviser are publicly at odds about the seriousness of the threat

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Trump, Kim, North Korea, Defends
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe welcomes U.S. President Donald Trump upon his arrival at Mobara Country Club in Mobara, Chiba prefecture, Japan, May 26, 2019. VOA

U.S. President Donald Trump and his national security adviser are publicly at odds about the seriousness of the threat currently posed by North Korea.

In a Sunday morning tweet from Tokyo, Trump issued a retort to John Bolton who the previous day here had told reporters that there was “no doubt” North Korea’s recent test firing of short-range ballistic missiles violated a United Nations resolution.

Bolton’s remark was the first by a U.S. official describing the North Korean launches as a violation of U.N. resolutions.

“North Korea fired off some small weapons which disturbed some of my people and others, but not me,” said Trump in his tweet.

Trump, Kim, North Korea, Defends
U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un meet during the second U.S.-North Korea summit at the Sofitel Legend Metropole hotel in Hanoi, Feb. 28, 2019. VOA

But some analysts say the missile launches are indeed a concern.

“It’s pretty clear the missile launch was a violation of U.N. sanctions, whatever the range. The reality is that U.S. forces and civilians in South Korea and Japan are already in range of North Koreans missiles, so accepting shorter or mid-range missiles puts the United States at risk, not to mention our allies Japan and the Republic of Korea,” Kevin Maher, a Washington security consultant and a former head of the State Department’s Office of Japan Affairs, told VOA. “These realities are inconvenient if the objective is to show a personal relationship with the dictator Kim Jong Un will stop North Korea’s continuing nuclear and missile programs.”

The U.S. president also expressed confidence the North Korean leader “will keep his promise to me” in moving toward denuclearization.

In the tweet, Trump also said he smiled when Kim called former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden “a low IQ individual.”

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The initial presidential tweet misspelled the Democratic Party presidential contender’s name as “Bidan” and was later replaced. And it was not Kim who made the disparaging remark about Biden, rather an unsigned commentary carried by North Korea’s central news agency, which referred to the American politician as a “fool of low IQ” and an “imbecile bereft of elementary quality as a human being.”

Trump concluded his tweet by stating that perhaps Kim was trying “to send me a signal” — apparently a reference that the leader in Pyongyang prefers to negotiate with the current American president over the opposition party’s top-polling contender.

Trump and Kim have held two summits, in Singapore and Hanoi. Neither has led to any significant breakthroughs, although the meetings were seen as reducing tensions between the two countries, which have no diplomatic relations and whose leaders had never met before.

The United States and North Korea were belligerents in a three-year war in the early 1950s that devastated the Korean Peninsula. It ended with an armistice, but no peace treaty has ever been signed.

Bolton comment

Bolton, who 13 months ago replaced retired Army General H.R. McMaster as the president’s national security adviser, is known as a hardliner who distrusts Pyongyang’s intentions.

Trump, Kim, North Korea, Defends
U.S. President Donald Trump and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe play golf at Mobara Country Club in Mobara, Chiba prefecture, Japan May 26, 2019, in this photo taken by Kyodo. VOA

North Korea has a long track record of violating international agreements and has repeatedly defied U.N. sanctions against its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

Trump fired off his tweet shortly before taking a helicopter from Tokyo to the Mobara Country Club in nearby Chiba prefecture.

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Japanese Prime Minister Abe, dressed in a blue blazer and white pants, rolled up in a golf cart to meet Trump, who was wearing a red jacket and carrying a red hat in his hand.

After some hours on the golf course, the two leaders viewed bouts of sumo before the U.S. president awarded the large and heavy President’s Cup (quickly nicknamed the Trump Cup’) to champion Asanoyama, a 177-kilogram (390-pound) wrestler who clinched the Summer Grand Tournament the previous day.

Trump, Kim, North Korea, Defends
U.S. President Donald Trump prepares to present the President’s Cup to wrestler Asanoyama, the winner of the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament at Ryogoku Kokigikan Sumo Hall in Tokyo, May 26, 2019.U.S. President Donald Trump prepares to present the President’s Cup to wrestler Asanoyama, the winner of the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament at Ryogoku Kokigikan Sumo Hall in Tokyo, May 26, 2019. VOA

“That was an incredible evening at sumo,” Trump told reporters as he and first lady Melania Trump joined Prime Minister and Mrs. Abe for dinner at a Tokyo restaurant where the food is served on long paddles. Trump said he personally “bought that beautiful trophy, which you’ll have hopefully for many hundreds of years.”

Trump on Monday meets Japan’s new emperor, Naruhito, who hosts a state dinner for the visiting president that evening. In between, Trump holds a formal meeting with Abe in which they are expected to discuss trade and defense matters.

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No quick breakthrough on trade is expected, although both leaders have expressed a desire for a bilateral trade pact after Trump pulled the United States out of the comprehensive 12-nation Trans Pacific Partnership, which Tokyo had spearheaded with Washington under Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama.

Following the golf outing, Trump tweeted that no trade deal would be made until after July’s elections for some of the seats in the upper house of Japan’s Diet (parliament).

Trump, Kim, North Korea, Defends
U.S. President Donald Trump, with first lady Melania Trump, receives a plate of food from a chef as they and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife Akie Abe have dinner in Tokyo, May 26, 2019. VOA

Later at dinner, the president said, “the prime minister and I talked a lot today about trade and military and various others things. I think we had a very productive day.”

Before Trump departs Japan on Tuesday, he is to visit the naval base at Yokosuka to tour a Japanese helicopter carrier and address American service personnel in conjunction with the U.S. Memorial Day holiday (observed Monday). (VOA)