A South Korean newspaper has reported that 80 North Koreans were executed last week for watching smuggled foreign television broadcasts and possibly for owning Bibles.
The JoongAng Ilbo reported the executions were carried out in seven cities on Nov. 3.
French news agency Agence France-Press reported that while the South Korean publication cited a single, unnamed source, one North Korean defector group had heard similar rumors that “lent credibility to the front-page report.”
The newspaper’s source recently left North Korea, where an eyewitness told the source that 10,000 North Koreans were brought to the Shinpoong sports stadium in Wonsan to watch eight people face a firing squad, suggesting the dictatorial leadership was trying to send a chilling message to the public.
The Daily Mail reported that those killed “were tied to stakes with sacks over their heads.”
“I heard from the residents that they watched in terror as the corpses were riddled by machine-gun fire that they were hard to identify afterwards,” the source said, according to the Huffington Post.
“Most were charged with watching illicit South Korean TV dramas, and some with prostitution,” AFP reported.
Both the Huffington Post and the Daily Mail reported that some of those executed may have been punished for owning Bibles.
AFP quoted the website North Korea Intellectual Solidarity, which is administered by defectors, which said its sources had warned several months ago of plans for public executions.
It’s unknown what motivated the North Korean regime to order the large number of reported killings, but several North Korea-watchers have theories.
“The regime is obviously afraid of potential changes in people’s mind-sets and is pre-emptively trying to scare people off, a North Korea Intellectual Solidarity spokesman said according to the British newspaper The Independent.
It is against the law in North Korea to watch unsanctioned foreign broadcasts, many of which are smuggled in by DVDs and flash drives.
“As well as South Korean soap operas, U.S. shows like ‘Desperate Housewives’ are believed to have a small but avid following,” AFP reported.
The Daily Mail identified the other locations where executions were carried out as: Chongjin in North Hamgyong Province, Sariwon in North Hwanghae Province and Pyongsong in South Pyongan.
Practicing the Christian faith is illegal in North Korea, where merely owning a Bible is considered criminal. According to Fox News, “any person caught with one is sent – along with three generations of his or her family – to prison.”
American Pastor Eric Foley has been air-dropping Bibles into North Korea using GPS-guided balloons filled with hydrogen since 2003. His group, Seoul USA, says it has dropped 50,000 Christian texts into North Korea this year alone, according to its website.
“They are the most persecuted believers on earth,” Foley told Fox News of the North Korean Christian population. Estimates of their numbers vary between 100,000 to 400,000.
The North Korean leadership forces its citizens to embrace the Juche ideology “which mixes Marxism with worship of the late ‘Great Leader’ Kim Il Sung and his family,” Fox News reported.
According to the State Department’s 2012 report on human rights, “The government subjected citizens to rigid controls over many aspects of their lives, including denial of the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, religion, and movement and worker rights.”
“Defectors continued to report extrajudicial killings, disappearances, arbitrary detention, arrests of political prisoners, and torture,” the State Department said.