Public Executions on the Rise

According to the latest issue of NK In&Out, a regular Network for North Korean Democracy and Human Rights (NKnet) publication read by academics and policymakers, a number of public executions have been carried out by the North Korean authorities in recent months.

The publication asserts that the practice of public execution had been on the wane since it drew international criticism in recent years, but that two notable cases of economic error and mismanagement had caused it to be brought back.

In the first case, which occurred in February of this year, two officials from the Ministry of Electric Industry were executed for “shutting down the electricity supply” to the Sunjin Steel Mill in Kimchaek, North Hamkyung Province. The mill is an important cog in the wheels of Sino-North Korean trade; its rolled steel is sent to Kimchaek Iron Works and onwards for export to China.

It is alleged that Kim Jong Il himself actually ordered that electricity be diverted from the steel mill to Pyongyang, but that the act of following the order caused considerable damage to the mill. In any case, as a result the two were arrested and executed on February 20th.

In the second case, the head of the Haeju garrison of the Defense Security Command of the People’s Army was executed in front of around 170,000 people. The man, Oh Kum Chol, was officially executed for adultery, though rumor has it that this is not the true reason.

According to NK In&Out, Oh was also guilty of embezzling U$1.8 million from the children of one Chang Wool Hwa. Chang is a Chinese man who assisted Kim Il Sung during the war with Japan and is a “symbol of Sino-Korean cooperation in North Korea.” His children are heavily involved in Chinese-North Korean trade.

Oh was executed in late March.

The death penalty is legal in North Korea, and is applied for a large range of offences, including economic crimes and, on at least one occasion, making international phone calls.