In late April, North Korean authorities publicly executed a man living in Wonsan (Gangwon Province) who illegally sold CDs and USBs filled with South Korean movies, dramas, and music videos.

According to a source in the province last Thursday, North Korean authorities executed the man after branding him an “anti-socialist element” in accordance with the “anti-reactionary thought law” implemented late last year.

The man, surnamed Lee, worked as a chief engineer at the Wonsan Farming Management Commission. He was caught by his inminban (people’s unit) leader’s daughter while secretly selling storage devices loaded with South Korean films, music, and broadcasts organized by type and genre. The inminban leader’s daughter reported him to the authorities, who arrested Lee shortly after. 

On Apr. 25, approximately forty days after his arrest, Lee was publicly executed in front of a crowd of five hundred people, which included Wonsan officials and their families, teachers, and university students. After forcing Lee’s immediate family members to stand in the front row at the execution, the authorities killed Lee by firing squad.

USBs loaded with a mix of news, cultural, and civic content for distribution into North Korea. / Image: Daily NK

“This was the first execution in Gangwon Province for anti-socialist acts under the anti-reactionary thought law,” according to a ruling released by the authorities. “In the past, [people like Lee] were sent to labor or re-education camps. It would be a grave error to believe that you will receive light punishment [for anti-socialist acts]. Such reactionary behavior helps people who are attempting to destroy our socialism. Reactionaries should not be allowed to live without fear in our society.” 

“After the authorities recited the guilty verdict, the sound of twelve shots rang out. [Lee’s] lifeless body was rolled into a straw sack and loaded into a box, and then taken somewhere,” the source said. “Lee’s wife, son, and daughter collapsed where they were standing in the front row of the execution area. While everyone watched, Ministry of State Security officials picked them up and loaded them into a cargo truck with barred windows for transport to a political prisoner camp.

“The family’s neighbors burst into tears when they saw the four security guards picking up Lee’s collapsed wife and throwing her [into the cargo van] like a piece of luggage, but they had to clamp their mouths shut and weep in silence for fear of being caught in the criminal act of having compassion for a reactionary,” the source added.

Lee reportedly confessed to his crimes before the execution, saying that he sold the CDs and USB sticks containing South Korean video content for between USD 5 USD and USD 12 each. According to the source, the Ministry of State Security is searching for those who purchased the videos from Lee. The authorities arrested approximately twenty other merchants involved in the case and are currently conducting preliminary examinations for each of them.

“Nowadays, if you are caught watching a South Korean video, you receive a sentence of either life in prison or death, so nobody knows who will be executed next,” the source said. “You can receive a seven-year sentence just for not reporting someone [who watched or distributed South Korean media]. The entire population is shaking with fear.”

*Translated by S & J

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to
Read in Korean