Four North Koreans were publicly executed in Pyongyang recently on charges of distributing “illegal video materials,” Daily NK has learned.

A source in the country told Daily NK yesterday that the execution took place on Mar. 2 at the Daewon-ri Firing Range in Pyongyang’s Sadong District. The four people, including three men and one woman, were executed by firing squad in front of local city residents and the heads of all Pyongyang’s inminban (neighborhood watch-like organizations).

All those executed were residents of Hadang-dong, an area of Pyongyang’s Hyongjae District. Led by a man in his early 50s along with his wife, who was in her late 40s, the group was accused of placing South Korean movies, entertainment and music programs on SD cards and distributing them throughout the country.

There are a large number of people in Hadang-dong who make counterfeit cigarettes called gadaegidambae. The couple had long worked as counterfeit cigarette-makers who bought cigarette components from a nearby cigarette factory through “behind-the-scenes” deals and imported cigarette paper from across the Sino-North Korean border.

The counterfeit cigarettes are similar to genuine articles in terms of how they look and packaged; however, they cost half as much, which means there is demand for them in areas outside of the capital city.

From August of last year, the couple gained the attention of people in their district when they added another story to their house and paid the people living next to them to move away so they could take over their house. The couple also created a mini-factory replete with production equipment near their house that employed 30 to 40 people.

The couple’s neighbors thought it was strange that they had suddenly become so financially well off given that it is generally hard to make that much money selling counterfeit cigarettes.

Various types of North Korean cigarettes
Various types of North Korean cigarettes. / Image: Daily NK

Another man and wife team who operated a vehicle that shipped the counterfeit cigarettes to places throughout the country also thought the couple’s new developments were strange. They found it particularly strange that the couple added an extra box to the shipments.

In January, the man and wife team switched out one of the extra boxes and took a look inside. They found that the box was full of SD cards below two boxes of cigarettes. After confirming that the SD cards were full of various South Korean video content, they reported the couple to the Ministry of State Security.

“After the anti-reactionary thought law was created, [the authorities] established ‘anti-socialist, non-socialist elimination combined command centers,’ and from early February these command centers have been operating in each province, directly-administered city, and special city in the country,” the source said. “The couple’s case was sent from the Ministry of State Security to the Pyongyang command center, and later two other workers in their 30s who had been paid by the couple to copy the SD cards were arrested.”

The authorities reportedly found large amounts of Chinese-made SD cards at the couple’s house. The Pyongyang command center demanded the couple tell them who had given them the SD cards; however, the couple claimed that since August of last year they had just received boxes with several USBs in them on two occasions while importing cigarette paper over the border and they had no idea who placed them in the boxes.

The couple admitted that there were videos they had never seen before in the USBs and had believed that selling the videos would make them some money. They later placed the videos on SD cards and sold them at the Hadong Market and found that the videos were popular. They then moved to sell the videos throughout the country.

“The case was reported to Kim Jong Un and they were ordered to be executed as traitors to the nation,” the source said. “Preliminary examinations usually take around six months, but the couple was publicly executed quickly to make them an example.”

Preliminary examinations include the entire interrogation process prior to suspects being indicted.

Article 27 of the anti-reactionary thought law says that anyone caught importing or distributing South Korean movies, music or published works face a lifetime of forced labor or execution, according to materials obtained by Daily NK.

The teenage children of the couple have been sent to South Pyongan Province’s Bukchang 18 concentration camp, which is run by the Ministry of Social Security. The immediate family members of the other executed people who had been living in Pyongyang have all been exiled to other parts of the country.

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to
Read in Korean
Ha Yunais Daily NK's editor-in-chief. Please direct any questions about her articles to