North Korea Slams Broadcast Showing Public Execution

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:16 PM EDT

( - Angered by the broadcast of a secretly filmed public execution inside North Korea, the Stalinist state has accused the U.S.-based CNN television network of promoting Washington's "regime change" agenda.

Pyongyang also hinted at banning the network from future visits.

"We have allowed CNN in our country for news coverage several times and guaranteed the necessary conditions, but with the incident CNN has dug its own grave," North Korea's official KCNA mouthpiece charged in a weekend commentary.

"[CNN] aired a videotape which seriously misrepresented the independent and fair and aboveboard measures taken by the DPRK for enforcing laws, without confirming their truth," it said.

DPRK stands for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the reclusive regime's official name.

CNN earlier this month broadcast a documentary entitled "Undercover in the Secret State," showing footage reportedly smuggled out of North Korea by a defector.

In addition to scenes of a public execution by shooting, the program also showed footage depicting other abuses of human rights as well as signs of dissent inside the authoritarian state, including images of a dissident defacing a poster of Kim Jong-il.

The commentary lashed out at the network, calling it a "reptile" and a "trumpeter" for the U.S. administration.

It painted the documentary as part of a broader conspiracy by the U.S. against Pyongyang, adding that the Washington Post had earlier been "instigated" to publish allegations about the use of poisonous gas experiments.

Secretly filmed footage of executions in North Korea have in fact been circulating for months, with one such item broadcast on the Japanese network n-TV last March.

The Washington Post was not alone in covering the poison gas claims. A BBC documentary aired early this year featured a defector claiming to be a former senior manager at a North Korean prison camp, who said he witnessed prisoners gassed to death in experiments suspected to have been testing agents for non-conventional weapons.

KCNA said the footage shown on CNN was fabricated. It said anyone who knew even a little about the country could tell that the dress and manner of speaking on the clip differed from the reality in North Korea.

It said North Korea did not deny having the death penalty, but "does not use such barbaric execution method as the U.S. has used in different parts of the world in the present century as well as in the last century.

"It is only the U.S. that is using such harsh torture and execution method as forcing the prisoner to sit on an electric chair, the method unanimously denounced by the world people."

The grainy images seen on CNN showed a man shot by a firing squad as onlookers watch. The convicted man was said to have been accused of helping a refugee illegally cross the border into China.

Similar footage shown earlier on Japanese television depicted what appeared to be a cursory public "trial" of two people accused of illegal border crossing and human trafficking. One is sentenced to death, and the other to 10 years' imprisonment.

Watched by a crowd, the execution is carried out minutes later. The condemned person is tied to a post and three soldiers ordered, in Korean, to "aim at the enemy."

The body slumps to the ground, and soldiers then struggle to cram it into a sack. An official is said to announce to the crowd: "You have witnessed how miserable fools end up. Traitors who betray the nation and its people end up like this."

Life Funds for North Korean Refugees (LFNKR), a Japan-based organization, took the clip to Geneva to show to delegates at the annual U.N. Commission for Human Rights meeting.

LFNKR said the footage was secretly taped in Yuson district near the Chinese border and smuggled out at great risk.

Other North Korean defectors had corroborated key aspects of the footage, including the area where the execution had taken place and the format.

The organization said the area was on an important escape route into China, and suggested the public killings were intended to scare other would-be defectors not to try cross the border.

Tens of thousands of North Korean refugees have slipped into China, but once there face the risk of being rounded up and repatriated. Beijing considers them illegal migrants, not refugees.

Those who are forcibly returned face imprisonment or death, according to human rights researchers.

The U.S. and other Western governments have condemned China's actions, which they say violate international refugee conventions.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow