TOKYO – A firing squad fires a few shots. In the distance, the blurry figures of North Koreans condemned to die for attempting to escape the totalitarian nation slump over, lifeless.
A Japanese media company said Thursday it has obtained footage of two sessions of public executions they say were carried out in North Korea (search) on March 1-2. Nippon Television Network Corp. broadcast portions of the tape Wednesday.
"It's the first time that a video of public executions has been brought out of North Korea and shown to the outside world," said Hitoshi Takase, president of Japan Independent News Net, a company that produces news segments for Japanese television networks.
South Korean activists have asserted the totalitarian state carries out the killings to terrify its citizens into remaining within its borders.
The blurry film — from apparently a hidden camera — appeared to show two people being shot in Hoeryong town near the border with China (search) on March 1. The condemned faced the firing squad shortly after a brief trial in which a judge found them guilty of trying to cross into China and smuggle others there, News Net said.
In each case, three gunmen each fired three shots at a prisoner who was tied to a pole.
The judge sentenced two others to life imprisonment and gave five others 10 to 15 years in labor and re-education camps, according to News Net's translation of the Korean soundtrack.
At another trial and execution session in the same town the following day, one more person was executed and one person was sentenced to 10 years of labor camp, the company said.
News Net said the video was carried out of North Korea by several defectors. It was filmed by unnamed residents of the Stalinist state, the company said in a statement.
It decided to publicize the tape after determining witness accounts of the executions matched the images captured on film, the statement said.
A Seoul-based group called the Commission to Help North Korean Refugees said last month that North Korea had executed 70 defectors who were captured in China and sent home to discourage its citizens from fleeing the country.
The number of people fleeing North Korea decreased drastically following the executions, the group said.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda said on Wednesday that Tokyo was concerned about the apparent evidence provided in the video of North Korea's public executions.
"I saw the news. The U.N. human rights committee, in its resolution on human rights in North Korea, has expressed deep concern that public executions are a serious violation of human rights," Hosoda said. "As a co-sponsor of the resolution, our country shares this understanding."
A trickle of defectors from the communist North has swelled into a steady flow in recent years as more attempt to flee hunger and political repression in their homeland. Nearly 1,900 North Koreans defected to the South last year, an increase of almost 50 percent from the year before.
More than 100,000 North Koreans are living in hiding in China, the Commission to Help North Korean Refugees has estimated.