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Over 17 North Koreans prosecuted for using S. Korean slang: Human Rights Watch

By Jung Min-ho

January 14, 2024

Regime uses public trials, executions to ‘awaken the masses’

More than 17 young North Koreans were prosecuted for watching unsanctioned videos and using South Korean slang in 2023 as the regime strengthened its control over almost every aspect of people’s lives, according to a report published Thursday (U.S. time).

In its annual World Report, Human Rights Watch (HWR), a New York-based NGO, said North Korea “remains one of the most repressive countries in the world” as totalitarian leader Kim Jong-un continues to use torture, executions and other barbaric means to tighten his grip on power.

Citing North Korean escapees who spoke to their relatives there, Elaine Pearson, HRW’s Asia director, said 17 young North Koreans were prosecuted last year for watching unauthorized videos ― likely originating from South Korea ― and using South Korean-style language.

“The group’s leader was sentenced to 10 years forced labor,” Pearson said in response to The Korea Times’ email inquiries. “In another case, youth athletes were sentenced to 3-5 years for using South Korean vocabulary.”

North Korean authorities also approved the use of public trials and executions to “awaken the masses,” she added. Consuming any media content created outside the country is illegal. But defectors say the penalties are particularly severe for those possessing or distributing content from the South.

“This past year, we’ve seen the North Korean regime strengthen its control, the country has become even more repressive and even more isolated since the pandemic,” Pearson said.

North Korea is infamous for its extreme isolation ― an environment established under the regime to brainwash its people. But the stakes for crossing the border are now higher than ever before.

“The government has a shoot-on-sight policy in place for anyone reaching the Northern border ― that has been in place since August 2020. Other violations of quarantine laws carry severe penalties, even death,” Pearson said.

This finding is consistent with a white paper released earlier this week by the Korea Institute for National Unification, a state-funded think tank. Citing an eyewitness who escaped North Korea last year, scholars said in that paper that a person was publicly executed for violating pandemic rules.

A combination of the global health crisis and the expansion of state intervention aggravated North Korea’s already dire shortages of food and other daily necessities, the World Report shows.

“They adversely impacted the ability of ordinary North Koreans to conduct basic economic activities, generally worsening their rights to food, health, and an adequate standard of living,” the report says. “

There were reports of a mass vaccination campaign and a second round of vaccinations for COVID-19 in North Pyongan Province, Nampo port, and Pyongyang in September 2022. However, there are no official numbers of vaccinated people available.”

The report also points out that China’s mass surveillance and its practice of deporting North Korean refugees are among the major obstacles that impede human rights activists’ efforts.

“The Chinese government continued to seek to detain North Korean asylum seekers and return them to North Korea, violating China’s obligations as a state party to the UN Refugee Convention.

Many North Koreans detained in China were forcibly returned to North Korea ― 80 in August, 40 in September, and at least 500 in October ― where they almost certainly faced grave abuses for their attempted escape,” it says.


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