In North Korea, smuggling South Korean entertainment content can literally get you killed. A new report from South Korea media claims that North Korea’s oppressive regime executed 80 people in public earlier this month for the "crime" of smuggling DVDs of South Korean television shows into the country and viewing them on DVD players and other devices.
One of South Korea’s major newspapers, JoongAng Ilbo, without citing a single named source, reported that North Korean military and government employees gathered in the eastern port city of Wonsan to watch one of seven executions that took place across the country. According to the source, the execution by firing squad was viewed by an estimated 10,000 people, including children. In Wonsan, eight people were executed. “I heard from the residents that they watched in terror as the corpses were [so] riddled by machine-gun fire that they were hard to identify afterwards,” the source said.
Most of the people being executed were reportedly charged with watching South Korean television dramas, while some others were accused of prostitution or carrying Bibles.
Like much of the news that comes out of the isolated nation, these reports came from single sources that were unconfirmed. One North Korean defector-run website, North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity, said it had heard similar reports several months ago. “The regime is obviously afraid of potential changes in people’s mindsets and is pre-emptively trying to scare people off,” the website said.
While foreign television content, especially from South Korea or the United States, is extremely restricted and often forbidden, North Korea’s increasing number of foreign visitors has created a small distribution channel for such goods.
North Koreans are not completely oblivious to the world's popular culture. Previous reports revealed that North Korea had a small pocket of avid "Desperate Housewives" fans, who had seen the shows on smuggled DVDs. In addition, limited foreign literature can be found in big cities like Pyongyang and is accessible to the small elite, via tablet devices.
Psy, the viral music video sensation behind "Gangnam Style" and arguably South Korea’s biggest current star, could also be a source of trouble. North Korean tour guides who deal with foreign tourists on a regular basis are asked about the popular dance hit. During a visit in early September, this reporter found that many guides carefully responded by saying they’ve heard of the song through tourists, but have not actually listened to it themselves.