Kim Jong Un’s authoritarian regime in North Korea has publicly executed the owner of a fishing fleet in front of 100 boat captains and fisheries executives for secretly listening to broadcasts by Radio Free Asia and other forbidden media outlets while at sea.
The US government-funded Radio Free Asia claims the fisherman was put to death after admitting he had listened to its broadcasts for more than 15 years.
Sources told RFA the mariner, known as Choi, was executed by a firing squad after he was turned in by a resentful crewman at his base in the northeastern port city of Chongjin.
An official in North Hamgyong province claimed that Choi had started listening to foreign broadcasts when he was a radio operator in the military.
After leaving the military, he continued the habit – leaving him exposed to charges of ‘subversion against the party’, it is claimed.
A subsequent crackdown at the fishing base also led to party officials and security officers being dismissed, it is reported.
The base in question was reputedly affiliated with the so-called Bureau 39, a shadowy wing of the party which obtains foreign currency for North Korean leaders.
North Korea goes to extraordinary lengths to stop its population from accessing outside information, with strict punishment for violators, but the open sea allows fishermen and merchant mariners the chance to hear forbidden broadcasts.
The captain had been catching fish for the government of Kim Jong Un, which has ordered North Korean fishermen to increase catches amid food shortages and to raise cash in the face of international sanctions aimed at curbing resources for nuclear weapons.
The captain appeared to be ‘under the illusion that because he was part of Bureau 39’s fishing base, he would be immune to criminal charges’, a source said.
However, he was said to have become unpopular with his crew members, eventually leading to his downfall.
A second source said: ‘One of the fishermen sought vengeance for Choi’s arrogant and disrespectful behavior so he reported him to the security department.’
Foreign radio stations can be received in much of North Korea, it is believed, but Kim Jong-un’s regime keeps a tight grip on what the public is allowed to know.
The second source claimed it is ‘common’ for fishermen to listen to foreign broadcasts such as RFA when they go out to sea.
‘Therefore, 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 source claimed.
Radio Free Asia, which is funded by Washington and has an office in Seoul, broadcasts six hours of programming a day to North Korea.