North Korea has reportedly publicly executed up at least 50 people this year, including several party officials for watching soap operas.
According to South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS), Pyongyang has purged about 10 officials from Kim Jong-un’s Workers’ Party for watching South Korean soaps.
All television and media is under strict state control and access to the internet is limited but despite a harsh crackdown, banned foreign shows and films have been gaining popularity in recent years.
Some are believed to be secretly streamed over the internet, while others are smuggled into the country on DVDs, video cassettes of memory sticks sold on the black market.
A North Korean defector calling himself “Mr Chung” revealed North Korea’s preferences in a Channel 4 documentary last year.
He smuggles radios, USB sticks and DVDs of soap operas and entertainment shows into the North, posing as a mushroom importer.
“The men prefer watching action films,” he said. “Men love their action films! I sent them Skyfall recently. The women enjoy watching soap operas and dramas.
"The more people are exposed to such media the more likely they are to become disillusioned with the regime and start wanting to live differently.”
A group of activists in South Korea led by another defector from the North send satchels containing anti-regime flyers, noodles, $1 bills and USB sticks containing South Korean soap operas over the border attached to balloons.
North Korea forbids its 24 million people from watching foreign broadcasts and videos out of fear outside influence could undermine the dictatorship’s ideology.
Anyone caught smuggling them in or distributing illicit material can be executed for crimes against the state and viewers have reportedly been sentenced to years in prison camps or hard labour.
A similar purge was reported last year, when around 80 people were said to be executed for watching South Korean television shows in November.
In the eastern port of Wonsan, the authorities gathered 10,000 people in a sports stadium to watch the execution of eight people by firing squad, JoongAng Ilbo reported.
It is not known whether the most recent group of officials executed include the six reported missing earlier this month.
Kim recently sparked global speculation over power struggles and even a coup by disappearing from public view for 40 days.
South Korean spies have since claimed the leader is recovering following an operation to remove a cyst from his right ankle, although there is a chance the condition could recur because of his weight.
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