North Korea executes people for South Korean videos, drugs - report

FILE PHOTO: A North Korean flag flies on a mast at the Permanent Mission of North Korea in Geneva October 2, 2014. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo

SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea executes people for drugs, sharing South Korean media, and religious activities as it stifles its citizens' human rights and freedom, its rival, South Korea, said in a report on Thursday.

South Korea's Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, based the 450-page report on testimony collected from 2017 to 2022 from more than 500 North Koreans who fled from their homeland.

"North Korean citizens' right to life appears to be greatly threatened," the ministry said in the report.

"Executions are widely carried out for acts that do not justify the death penalty, including drug crimes, distribution of South Korean videos, and religious and superstitious activities."

Reuters could not independently verify the South Korean government's findings but they were in line with U.N. investigations and reports from non-governmental organisations.

North Korea has rejected criticism of its rights conditions as part of a plot to overthrow its rulers.

The report gave details of rampant state-led rights abuses in communities, prison camps and elsewhere, including public executions, torture and arbitrary arrests.

Deaths and torture regularly occur in detention facilities and some people were summarily executed after being caught trying to cross the border, the ministry said.

The report came as South Korea seeks to highlight its isolated neighbour's failure to improve living conditions while racing to boost its nuclear and missile arsenals.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said the report should better inform the international community of the North's "gruesome" abuses, saying North Korea deserved "not a single penny" of economic aid while it pursues its nuclear ambitions.

The approach by the conservative Yoon is a distinct departure from that of his liberal predecessor, Moon Jae-in, who faced criticism for his less outspoken position on the North's rights as he sought to improve ties and build rapport with its leader, Kim Jong Un.

The Unification Ministry is required by law to make an annual assessment of the North's rights situation.

Nearly 34,000 North Koreans have settled in South Korea but the number of defectors has fallen sharply because of tighter border security.

North Korean arrivals hit an all-time low of just 63 in 2021, amid COVID-19 shutdowns, before edging up to 67 in 2022, ministry data showed.

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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