North Korea has reportedly executed 80 prisoners across several cities, some for offenses like possessing a Bible, with a human rights group calling the executions a sign that the regime of Kim Jong-un is increasingly fearful of its own people.
"These executions are a reflection of two things at work: First, unlike his father, Kim Jong-Il, Kim Jong Eun has had to work aggressively to consolidate power once his father died. Remember that Kim Il Song had prepared for the transition to his son, Kim Jong-il and he was already in major leadership roles when Kim Il Song died," Suzanne Scholte, president of human rights group Defense Forum Foundation, said in an email to The Christian Post on Tuesday.
"Second, this is a reflection of a regime that is increasingly fearful of its own people and has to send a powerful, brutal message by doing high profile public executions. We have certainly seen these public executions used in the past by Kim Jong Il."
The large-scale executions, reported by South Korean newspaper JoongAng Ilbo, apparently occurred across several cities earlier this month, and are the first known large-scale public executions by the Kim Jong-un regime.
Eight of the executed prisoners were apparently shot by machine gun after being tied to stakes at a local stadium in the city of Wonsan. More than 10,000 reportedly witnessed the killings, with one source telling the South Korean newspaper that the corpses were "so riddled by machine-gun fire that they were hard to identify afterward."
Some of the executed were punished for things such as watching South Korean movies or possessing a Bible, which goes strongly against North Korean laws. Their relatives and accomplices have also been sent to the country's notorious prison camps.
Christians have faced intense persecution in North Korea, which is ranked as the worst country in the world in terms of Christian persecution by watchdog group Open Doors. Earlier this year, another two Christians apparently died because of their faith in the isolated Pacific country, and last week Christian missionary Kenneth Bae became the longest serving American detainee there since the end of the Korean War in 1953.
Scholte, who has worked extensively on human rights issues in North Korea, told CP that it was evident from the very start of Kim Jong-un's regime that it was going to be just as brutal as previous regimes, squashing any hopes that North Korea would begin building bridges to the rest of the world.
"Right at the start it threatened to assassinate three generations of a family if just one family member escaped during the 100 day morning period after Kim Jong-il's death," the Defense Forum Foundation president said.
"Since then, Kim Jong Eun has launched a brutal crack down for those trying to escape North Korea and this has led to a significant drop in the number of refugees making it to South Korea and other countries."
In September, the North Korea Freedom Coalition launched a campaign urging Chinese President Xi Jinping to end his country's policy of sending North Korean refugees back home, where they face prison or death.
Scholte called upon the international community to call for the end of the Kim dictatorship and fight for human rights in North Korea.
"It is time for North Koreans in leadership to open their country to reform and change and end this third generation dictatorship," she added.