North Korea publicly executed 22-year-old man for watching K-drama

North Korea publicly executed a 22-year-old citizen for listening to and sharing K-pop music and films, according to South Korea.

The man from the Hermit Kingdom's South Hwanghae province was publicly executed in 2022 for listening to 70 South Korean songs, watching three films, and distributing them, according to testimonies published in the North Korean Human Rights report released by the South's unification ministry on Thursday.

The report – a compilation of testimonies from 649 North Korean defectors – highlights Pyongyang's brutal crackdown on Western influence and information flow into the isolated country.

The ban on K-pop to shield citizens from the "malign influence" of Western culture was further tightened under a new law that the North adopted in 2020, which prohibits "reactionary ideology and culture”.

The North has rejected criticisms of the government's grave violation of human rights, calling it a part of a conspiracy to overthrow the leadership.

Other “reactionary” practices that are punished include perceived South Korean customs such as brides wearing white dresses, grooms carrying the bride, sunglasses, and drinking alcohol from wine glasses.

According to the report, North Koreans are routinely subjected to mobile phone inspections for contact name spellings, expressions, and slang terms.

"The government does not tolerate pluralism, bans independent media, civil society organisations and trade unions, and systematically denies all basic liberties, including freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, association, and freedom of religion and belief," Human Rights Watch said about North Korea in their world report in 2023.

One of the defectors, a woman in her early 20s, said the "speed of South Korean culture influencing North Korea is seriously fast. Young people follow and copy South Korean culture, and they really love anything South Korean".

“After watching Korean dramas, many young people wonder, ‘Why do we have to live like this?’ … I thought I’d rather die than live in North Korea,” she was quoted by The Guardian as saying.

“Of course, we cannot say anything bad against Kim Jong-un publicly, but among close friends, lovers or family members, we do say those words,” she added.

In the past, North Korea has held executions in villages and prison camps where crowds could gather, according to right groups.

But it had increasingly avoided executions in heavily populated residential areas, where authorities had difficulty keeping track of those attending. It has also stopped holding executions near its borders and at facilities that can be easily monitored by satellites.

The South on Tuesday threatened to restart anti-Pyongyang frontline propaganda broadcasts in the latest bout of Cold War-style campaigns between the rivals after North Korea resumed its trash-carrying balloon launches.

North Korea has floated huge balloons carrying plastic bags of rubbish across the border in its fifth such campaign since late May – an apparent response to South Korean activists flying political leaflets via balloons.

The two Koreas are still technically at war since an armistice ended the 1950-1953 Korean War, not a peace treaty.