An armed North Korean border guard patrolling the banks of the Yalu River. Taken by ASIAPRESS on the Chinese side of the border across from Sinuiju, North Pyongan Province, in mid-October 2023.

◆ Neighborhood watch units and workplaces ordered to participate

This year’s third public execution in Yanggang Province’s city of Hyesan was held on December 19. The person executed was a 23-year-old man who had committed a murder-robbery. A large number of workers and local people were mobilized to watch the execution. A reporting partner in Hyesan gave details about what happened that day. (KANG Ji-won / ISHIMARU Jiro)


◆Thirteen people put on public trial: “It was the first time I’d seen anyone tremble that much”

―― Tell us about what happened that day. We heard that many people were mobilized to witness the public trial and execution.

In the morning, workplaces informed their employees that they must witness a public trial. Socialist Patriotic Youth League members were told to participate no matter what. After lunch, people lined up at their workplaces and headed to the Hyesan airport. All neighborhood watch units (inminban) were also ordered by district offices to participate in the public execution.

*Neighborhood watch units, or inminban, are North Korea's lowest administrative units and are typically made up of 20-30 households.

―― How many people were put on public trial?

There were a total of thirteen people. All of them had their hair shaved off. Some were trembling throughout the entire trial. I’d never seen anyone tremble like that before. Youth league members from each workplace were at the front of the lines during the trial. Before the trial started, an armed police unit went into a firing squad position, which made me think that everyone would be executed.

◆Executed man was a 23-year-old who had been discharged from the military due to malnutrition

―― One person was killed by the firing squad.

The person executed was a twenty-three-year-old man who had robbed and killed a woman transporting grains from a farming area to the city. When the woman screamed out, he beat her to death with a rock. The woman died there on the spot. An investigation began in September, so his execution was decided on quickly. They said his case was processed rapidly because he had committed murder.

The man had joined the military, but was sent home due to malnutrition. His parents had divorced, so he was living with his father. The man worked as a miner, but frequently skipped work, and he was repeatedly involved in various kinds of robberies.

―― They say he was executed for robbery and murder.

These days, people are scared to go out at night because of frequent robberies. At the trial, a police official emphasized that robberies and other anti-socialist behavior would not be forgiven and that the authorities would hand down severe legal punishments for such acts. The man was executed as a reminder to others.

The three public executions held this year in Hyesan were conducted at the high-elevation Hyesan airport. The airport is circled in red. The Yalu River can be seen at the top of the photo, and China is on the opposite side of the river. (Google Earth)

◆Broker given 10 years for aiding defectors

―― What were the other 12 people put on trial for?

Attempted murder, robbery, smuggling drugs, and helping defectors. Those accused of smuggling drugs were given eight years, while the rest were given 10 years. A woman who worked as a professional broker - and accused of helping defectors and smuggling - was given 10 years.

―― We heard many Hyesan residents were mobilized for the event.

There were many people who didn’t show up because of sickness. The authorities ordered an investigation into those who didn’t show up for the public trial. One person I know who skipped the trial due to sickness submitted a document showing his diagnosis and then paid off his neighborhood watch unit leader to seal the deal. An emergency study session aimed at increasing a law-abiding mentality among youth league members at each workplace was held on December 20.

―― This was the third public execution in Hyesan this year. What are your thoughts on this?

The society is a mess with everyone facing economic difficulties and frequent cases of robbery, murder, and fatal accidents, so I’m worried and scared now that the government is conducting so many executions…Everybody in my family is telling each other to be careful because if anyone breaks the law they could die for it.

◆ Eleven men and women executed in just four months

The December 19 execution is the third time this year that a public execution has been held in Hyesan. On August 30, seven men and two women were executed for selling a cow they slaughtered. On September 25, one man was executed by firing squad for siphoning off medicine. On December 20, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported on the December 19 execution. RFA’s reporting had many similarities to the information ASIAPRESS was able to receive from its reporting partner.

It is rare for North Korea to conduct so many public executions in a single city over such a short span of time. A defector who used to work for the Ministry of State Security told ASIAPRESS:

“When I was in North Korea, I never heard of public executions occurring three times in the same city within a span of just four months. The goal is to strike fear into people’s hearts, but the Kim Jong-un regime seems to have judged that the society’s conditions are so bad that public executions must be conducted in order to prevent the worsening of public disorder.”

※ASIAPRESS communicates with reporting partners through Chinese cell phones smuggled into North Korea.