A North Korean fishing boat captain has been publicly executed for listening to banned foreign radio stations while at sea.
The man, only known by his surname Choi and said to have been in his 40s, was killed by firing squad in front of 100 boat captains and fisheries executives, according to a Radio Free Asia report.
Choi, who owned a fleet of more than 50 ships, is thought to have been turned in by a crew member after they turned against him.
According to the RFA report, Choi ultimately confessed to authorities and was charged with “subversion against the party”.
“In mid-October, a captain of a fishing boat from Chongjin was executed by firing squad, on charges of listening to Radio Free Asia regularly over a long period of time,” a North Korean law enforcement official told RFA.
“They publicly shot him at the base in front of 100 other captains and managers of the facility’s fish processing plants. They also dismissed or discharged party officials, the base’s administration and the security officers who allowed Choi to work at sea.”
The network said the fishing boat captain began his habit of tuning into foreign radio stations, including RFA, while serving as a radio operator in the military. He had listened to RFA – a US-government funded network that broadcasts in Korean – for 15 years.
“The security authorities decided then that the time to re-educate him had long past, so they executed him by firing squad,” the source said.
“It seems that the authorities made an example out of Choi to imprint on the residents that listening to outside radio stations means death.”
The execution was followed by a crackdown on the fishing base in Chongjin, which is affiliated with the so-called ‘Bureau 39 – a government wing that obtains foreign currency for North Korea’s leaders. It reportedly led to the dismissal of party and security officers.
Chongjin is in North Korea’s so-called “free economic zone”, near its border with Russia and China.
Another source told RFA that Choi appeared to be “under the illusion that because he was part of Bureau 39’s fishing base, he would be immune to criminal charges”.
Executions are unfortunately common under the brutal and secretive North Korean regime. Among the most recent thought to have died that way was the country’s former special envoy to the US.
Kim Hyok Chol was reportedly executed and four other foreign ministry officials sent to prison camps after the collapse of the second summit with the US in Hanoi in 2019.
Earlier in 2019, a South Korean human rights group identified more than 300 sites where North Korea carried out public executions and extrajudicial state killings, based on witness reports.
The Seoul-based Transitional Justice Working Group said North Korea conducted public executions to incite fear.
“Public executions are to remind people of particular policy positions that the state has,” TJWG research director Sarah A Son said.
“But the second and more powerful reason is it instils a culture of fear among ordinary people.”
In 2015, the South Korean-funded Korean Institute for National Unification estimated the brutal northern regime had executed 1382 people between 2000-2013 – 160 of them in 2009 alone.