As disturbing news about the death of Kim Jong-un’s half brother comes to light, the world has been reminded of just how utterly extreme and dangerous life can be in the totalitarian state of North Korea (as if we needed to be reminded!). For those out of the loop, the current leader’s half brother, 46-year-old Kim Jong-nam was reportedly poisoned earlier this month by a North Korean official. Jong-nam decided to escape the ruthless regime under his late father, Kim Jong-il in early 2000 and has been considered an ‘enemy of the state’ by his North Korean family ever since.
The random assassination of family members is nothing new in North Korea, which makes you question - if they are capable of killing their own, just what else does this horrendous dictatorship consider an executable offence in their country? Quite a lot of things, as it turns out and most of them are things we do every day. These ridiculous so-called ‘offences’ are perfectly harmless to us, but try this shit in North Korea and you probably won’t be coming back (not even in a coffin).
Under Kim Jong-un’s oppressive regime, simple things like sitting down to watch your favourite TV show or playing some music after a long hard day is not an option. As well as censoring individuals from the outside world, it also seems that North Korea doesn’t wish to let their people be human either. Only in this screwed up country could you get killed for doing any of the following...
15 Playing Music
A simple pastime that most of us enjoy every day. Music is everywhere for us - whether we hear it in a store or on the radio and get this... we can even listen to our own particular choice of music whenever and wherever we want! No such luxury for a North Korean citizen. The only tune they’re likely to hear is probably a state-controlled nursery rhyme about how awesome the ‘Great Leader’ is.
Any music that comes from outside their heavily-controlled state is considered evil and destructive, so good luck trying to keep up to date with Drake’s latest album drop over there! All media output is strictly governed by the regime and must always reflect and respect the North Korean way of life. A number of individuals have reportedly been executed just for listening to foreign radio broadcasts. One upside to this grim ruling I guess is that the people of North Korea will never be exposed to Justin Bieber.
14 Insincere Mourning
It’s no surprise that the North Korean government hold their leaders in great reverence and this sense of worship and admiration only strengthens once they’re dead. The scariest example of this relentless form of idolising came after the death of the ‘Dear Leader’ Kim Jong-il in 2011. For weeks and weeks following his death, the world saw scenes of mass hysteria across the country as part of the imposed 100 day mourning period set up by Jong-il’s son, Kim Jong-un.
Mass crowds of North Korean citizens were seen falling to their knees in grief, flailing their arms and crying loudly and over-dramatically. But while these scenes might have looked funny, these poor people were actually crying for their lives. Anyone who failed to cry and show proper despair at the death of their great leader were sent to labour camps for months. Presumably, those who tried to escape their punishment or didn’t show up to mourn at all were as good as dead.
13 Complaining About Death Of A Spouse
Talk about one rule for them and another rule for the people - this horrendously hypocritical act by Kim Jong-un kind of suggests that no-one has the right to grieve about someone else (unless that person happens to be a late and great leader of North Korea). A man named Jang Song Thaek was executed for treason in 2013 and his grief-stricken wife (understandably) complained about it - until Kim Jong-un shut her up with a little poison.
What makes these two executions even more horrifying is when you realise who these people were... Kim Jong-un’s own Aunt and Uncle! This wasn’t any ordinary citizen grieving over her husband’s unjust and barbaric death sentence, Kim Kyong Hui was the young leader’s own flesh and blood! In typical North Korean fashion, the state-governed media covered their tracks by reporting that she had committed suicide shortly after her husband’s execution. Chilling.
12 Falling Asleep In Meetings
When Kim Jong-un is talking, he expects everyone to be listening on pain of death (literally). This was a lesson learned too late for North Korea’s defence minister, Hyon Yong-Chol who was brutally murdered in a military camp. His crime? Falling asleep during a meeting. Most of us will admit to feeling a little sleepy during a boring work meeting once in a while, but the most your boss could threaten you with is a warning and refuse you the last chocolate cookie.
This poor guy didn’t even receive a fair trial! Apparently, most executions carried out in North Korea are done so without a fair trial. If the great leader decides you have committed a crime, you’re doing the time (or in this case, you’re brutally executed). Executions of regular citizens are often carried out by firing squad or poisoning, but for senior officials, the mode of death is a little more extreme. As an example to others, defence minister Yong-Chol was killed using an anti-aircraft gun. Messed up.
11 Drinking Alcohol
Whether you like to party or enjoy a few social drinks every once in a while, alcohol is a part of most people’s lives. Too much may be harmful, yes, but everything in moderation can be enjoyed, right? Not in North Korea - unless you want to wake up with a death sentence and a hangover. Under North Korean law, alcohol cannot be sold openly and it’s understood that citizens may only drink alcohol on ‘special holidays’ aka when celebrating the birthdays of the leaders.
If citizens can drink to celebrate the life of the North Korean leaders, it would logically follow that they could do the same thing in the wake of their passing, say, after their funeral? Er, nope. A North Korean official was executed for drinking during the 100-day period of mourning for the late Kim Jong-il. His son, Kim Jong-un apparently demanded that the man be “obliterated with no trace of him, down to his last hair.” Okay, overreaction much?
10 Stealing Food
For many people who fall foul of the smallest law in North Korea, their punishment will usually involve months spent in labour camps. As you can imagine, the human rights prisoners receive there are pretty poor. So much so in fact that many become malnourished, forcing them to steal food to survive. Unsurprisingly, the North Korean regime doesn’t take pity on the desperate and starving - reportedly punishing those caught with an order for public execution.
If this weren’t despicable enough, these brutal public executions (which invariably involve shooting by firing squad, decapitation and hanging) are viewed by schoolchildren. Those to have survived prison camps in North Korea have spoken out about the dire conditions. One man revealed that he and his fellow inmates had resorted to eating grass in the spring to survive and that any meal they did receive was taken away if prisoners so much as spoke to one another.
9 Poorly Managing A Turtle Farm
We’re not sure if the late Kim Jong-il handed out the same bizarre and barbaric punishment when he was supreme ruler, but his son Kim Jong-un took it upon himself to carry out this particularity batshit crazy execution. It’s not every day that you read the headline ‘North Korean Leader Executes a Turtle Farmer for Incompetence.’ Nevertheless, this is one we came across while compiling this list.
Upon inspecting a terrapin farm in 2015, Kim Jong-un was disappointed by the facility’s ‘outmoded way of thinking and irresponsible work style’ and decided (as you do) to have the man in charge of the operation executed. Turtles are eaten in North Korea and have long been regarded as a precious and tasty tonic since the ‘olden times’ as the Korean Central News Agency puts it. Maybe Jong-un was lashing out because the farm was low on his favourite variety. North Korea really is hell on earth - for turtles and farmers.
8 Watching A Soap Opera
As you might have guessed already, censorship is a pretty big deal in North Korea. Anything that is not approved by the ruthless totalitarian state is a thing of ‘evil’ that will corrupt the minds of every individual and turn them against the great leader and all he stands for. You wouldn’t think this would apply to watching a harmless soap opera, but in crazy land, it does and can get you brutally killed too.
In a mass purging of disobedient North Koreans, around 80 people were publicly executed in 2013 for watching South Korean TV. Soon afterwards in 2014, a further 50 people were killed for watching South Korean soap operas. Among those murdered were apparently 10 high-ranking party officials working closely alongside Kim Jong-un. This is a scary and sobering thought - if the young dictator is able to hand out punishment to loyal state members simply for watching a TV show, what else could this megalomaniac ruler be capable of?
7 Phoning The Outside World
Communication with anyone beyond the confines of the North Korean border is strictly prohibited and can often result in more than just a hefty phone bill - it can get you killed. It’s unthinkable to us that we wouldn’t be able to contact a family member living in a different country or message our friend living in a different state if we wanted to. The sad reality for North Koreans, however, is that speaking to anyone outside the country (whether they’re related to you or not) is an executable offence.
In 2013, a North Korean man was killed by firing squad for making a call to his friend in South Korea. Years before in 2007, another man was gunned down after it had been discovered that he had made several international calls. Even making local calls is seen as abominable on certain occasions. Some North Koreans citizens were found to be using their mobile phones during the ‘100 day mourning’ period for Kim Jong-il. These people were branded ‘war criminals’ and punished severely. Insane!
6 Accessing The Real Internet
It’s hard to believe life without the world wide web. We’ve been using it for over 20 years (well, most of us have). The phrase ‘world wide’ doesn’t quite apply to North Korea though. The strict propaganda-heavy state keeps their people in check by severely limiting their internet access. North Korean citizens are only able to surf a restricted portal run by the government. Fun times.
These poor people are missing out on so much interesting information, not to mention all the funny cat videos you could ever wish to see! The NK web is filled with state-run news and nothing but good words to say about Kim Jong-un. Reportedly, some journalists hired by the state to produce their authoritarian web content were sent to ‘revolutionization camps’ simply for having a typo in their work! If this is how they treat their senior members of staff, we’d hate to think what they do to citizens hacking into the real world wide web...
5 Watching Pornography
The worst that some societies might think of porn is that people who watch it or upload pornographic material should be frowned upon or thought of as perverted. But even the most conservative people around accept that porn is out there and it isn’t going away anytime soon. From centrefolds in Playboy magazine to certain scenes in Game of Thrones, erotic material can be found everywhere in western society and no-one bats an eyelid. Tell that to North Korea!
Watching (and especially distributing) porn over there can have you killed. If the threat of a death penalty attached to viewing porn wasn’t enough to put citizens off the stuff, leader Kim Jong-un made damn sure that no-one would ever dare to break the law in one despicable act. In 2013, the young leader reportedly had his ex-girlfriend, Hyon Song-wol murdered in front of her own family for featuring in a sex tape.
4 Leaving The Country
Live in North Korea and fancy a change of scenery? Maybe just a quick holiday with your family? Forget it! North Korea’s travel restrictions are so tight that they never want their citizens to leave under any circumstances. This hasn’t stopped thousands of people from trying to, however. Since 1953, as much as 300,000 North Koreans have defected to China and South Korea to escape the tyrannical regime of their home country.
Defectors that are discovered leaving North Korea are tortured in horrific ways and often brutally executed to set an example to those who may be considering defecting. For those that actually survive the perilous journey across the border, life can be an endless struggle - families are often torn apart from each other for years, money is made by any means necessary and the constant fear of being watched is something many defectors have to endure for decades.
3 Disrespecting ‘The Leaders’
Of all the crazy ‘offences’ on this list, this one is big. The quickest way to piss off the North Korean government is to show any form of disrespect to their great leaders - and this includes failing to show respect full stop. (There’s no middle ground with these guys). Upon entering the capital city of Pyongyang, visitors cannot simply tour the place as they please. Some major butt-kissing is in order first.
Tourists are taken to the heart of the city where two gigantic bronze statues of the past leaders, Kim Il-sung and Kim-Jong-il, stand. Here, visitors are often instructed to bow and lay flowers at the statues. Even born and bred North Koreans are expected to go through with this quick worship ritual every time they pass the statues. Although failing to bow will not get you executed, you can bet that death would come instantly to anyone who so much as graffitied the shoe of one of the ‘great leaders’.
2 Practising Religion
Another example of the scary control this oppressive state has over their citizens is the fact that no-one is allowed to believe in a religion. The only ‘religion’ North Korea are likely to have, if any, manifests itself in the tireless worship and teachings about the lives of their current and previous leaders. Presumably, the only religious text North Korean citizens have in their home is ‘the great big book of how awesome Kim Jong-un is’.
According to investigative reports, North Korea is largely atheist and agnostic, but this hasn’t stopped some individuals from discovering western religions and sharing their beliefs with others. Unsurprisingly, expressing an individual belief or opinion never goes down well in NK and when a group of citizens were found to be practising Christianity, it did not go unpunished. In 2013, it was reported that 80 people were publicly executed just for owning the Bible!
1 Selling Or Obtaining Western Material
As we’ve learned, North Korea likes to have a tight, grip-like vice on the minds and attitudes of their citizens, since they don’t ever want them to find out about the real world. In true 1984 style, the North Korean government likes to make sure that any material that doesn’t comply with or reflect their warped ideology is strictly forbidden. This includes everything from western TV shows and music to foreign literature. Basically, if it’s not made in North Korea, you’re as good as dead for having anything to do with it.
Many have managed to smuggle American films and TV shows into the country, allowing others a liberating and tantalizing glimpse into how the rest of the world live. Unsurprisingly, anyone found to be distributing western material are (at best) sent to labour camps, but usually, shifting bootleg outsider material is a death sentence. In recent years, North Korea has executed 130 people alone for watching South Korean TV.
Sources: Express UK; Metro; Daily Mail; Vice: The Daily Beast; The Guardian; The Independent.
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