Seven cities across North Korea hosted the public execution of approximately 80 North Koreans on the 3rd of this November. The reported crimes of those executed included watching foreign films, pornography, South Korean television, and others, for owning a bible. The report was made by South Korean paper Korea Joohang Daily.
One witness shared that thousands were forced to watch one of the executions in a sports stadium located in the city of Wonsan. Eight people were tied to stakes and fit with bags over their heads before a firing squad proceeded to blast the blinded victims with machineguns. Afterward they were unrecognizable. The family members and friends of the executed were reportedly sent to prison camps. And if you’ve read the testimony of Ms. Soon Ok Lee, who served a little over five of a thirteen-year sentence, you’ll have a vivid impression of what the potentialities in North Korean prisons are like.
[Ms. Soon Ok Lee is former political prisoner of North Korea who defected from the country and has since shared her near-six year harrowing experience in the all-women prison with the world. She has written a book called Eyes of the Tailless Animals: Prison Memoirs of a North Korean Woman and has testified in front of the U.S. Congress.]
North Korea captured the attention of the U.S. earlier this year when U.S. citizen Kenneth Bae was sentenced to serve fifteen years “hard labor” in April for several infractions committed according to North Korea. These infractions include Bae’s alleged planning of an anti-religious coup d’état and the managing of a smear campaign, among other things.
In a video obtained by CNN in early July, Bae, although visibly deteriorated, illuminated his sentence as one that included doctor check-ups, bearable conditions, and one in where people were considerate and generous. This account of the North Korean prison/labor system starkly contrasts with the testimony of Ms. Soon Ok Lee, where she recollects the testing of biological weapons on prisoners, forced abortions, infanticide, and many more atrocities, including the use of water torture on prisoners.
The video of Kenneth Bae obtained by CNN was allowed by North Korea to be conducted and edited by Tokyo based Pro-North Korean group Choson Sinbo. Ms. Soon Ok Lee’s testimony came after her defection and exodus from the North Korean state, which probably allowed her more liberties with her testament. Mr. Bae is currently still being held prisoner by North Korea. Although throughout the interview, Bae portrayed a well-composed detainee, he did allowed himself the lamentation of having missed his father’s 70th birthday, which coincidentally fell on the 4th of July.
In a country that attempts to shield its denizens from the otherworldly spheres of capitalism and the freedoms expressed through sexual and religious liberties, its rare that a story breaks through the shell of this mysterious “hermit kingdom.” But here we are – with approximately eighty persons executed for what Americans might see as petty misdemeanors. Imagine being publically executed for producing or distributing pornography? For owning a bible? Imagine your family and friends sent to live and work in prisons under inhumane conditions, after you’ve been riddled with machine guns?
With the mourning friends and families of the executed being sent to North Korean prisons, one can only think that their fates will drift back into obscurity; the characteristic obscurity of North Korea that has allowed the country to perform the mistreatment of humans that Soon Ok Lee and this story have been given chance to share.
In times such as these, the only real question that many people are probably thinking is, Where is Dennis Rodman?
By Ivan Penado