This week’s Ask a North Korean deviates somewhat from our usual formula. Instead of publishing answers to readers’ questions, we’re publishing the third part of a series of excerpts from an upcoming e-book, “Goodbye, Pyongyang”, by one of our longtime contributors, Ji-Min Kang, which will be released later this year.
In this excerpt, Ji-Min, who now lives in London, recounts witnessing a public execution in North Korea.
The party secretary was frowning when he walked into the office after the morning assembly that day.
“I had a nightmare last night. No wonder I’m having a bad day today. Call everyone in the Youth League to come to the Bridge of Royalty by 2pm. Make sure that everyone participates, okay?”
Disturbed, he looked out the window. The sky was covered by a cluster of dark clouds.
Everyone in the neighborhood was told to assemble at the park. Agents forced people to get in a queue. A truck went by playing a party song loudly through a speaker.
We knew that there was something wrong. We knew that there would be a public execution today.
Years before, when a secretary in the farming department of the Workers’ Party was executed, people were told to gather together at the park. I was too young to attend public executions back then, but my parents went. After witnessing it, they couldn’t eat for several days.
Today, someone else was being scheduled to be executed in public right here. In the regions outside Pyongyang, public executions were held pretty often, but it wasn’t often that you’d witness a public execution in the capital.
Thousands of people were called upon to be present at the park. A military jeep pulled up in front of the crowd. Several agents armed with guns shouted from all corners of the park. People craned their heads to see what was happening. When the crowd went quiet, one of the agents spoke through the loudspeaker.
“We have successfully arrested a criminal who was destroying the order of law and possessions of our socialist state. The accused firmly believed that he could do anything as long as he had money. Despite the fact that he was a high-ranking officer working for the party, he only cared about his own benefits…”
He was charged with destroying the people’s economy and getting in touch with South Korean intelligence. He was pulled out of the jeep along with his co-workers. They were all tied to posts.
One of them was my friend.
He was a promising athlete who had managed to come to Pyongyang from a small town. But he was always broke since he came from a low-income family. His friends always took care of him and he was indebted to them constantly. One day, he began to spend a lot of money and treat his friends to booze and food. When his friends asked where he had got all the money from, he nonchalantly said that his mom’s business was doing well.
But his mom wasn’t his source of income. The Bridge of Royalty had recently been dubbed the “Bridge of Terror” by people in the neighborhood: people were being robbed of their bicycles late at night. Bicycles are always pricey in Pyongyang. They’re in high demand, locals like to ride bicycles to get to work.
Robbers were hiding in the dark and attacked people with bicycles. When it went on for a while, people began to criticize the State Security Department. Under criticism, the police went to stop them. The athlete was arrested after stealing sixteen bicycles.
Now he was about to be executed in public.
“According to the criminal law of this Republic, you will be executed. Shooters, come forward.”
The accused didn’t rebel.
Bang! Bang! Bang! The accused were gone just like that. The agents put them in potato sacks and tossed them into the truck. The truck left shortly afterwards.
We don’t know what happens to the dead bodies. There was a rumor that they fed wild animals, but we don’t know if that’s true. People were left in shock. The public execution was done. Now, people were told to return home. Why did he come all the way to Pyongyang? If he stayed with his friends in his hometown, he would’ve been a lot happier.
His only hope was to live in Pyongyang as a successful athlete. He used to say all the time that he wanted to bring his mom to Pyongyang to live with him.
Now he’s gone, executed in front of thousands of people. It rained heavily that night.
Written by Ji-Min Kang
Translation by Elizabeth Jae
Featured image by Adam Westerman
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