Surprising Things That Could Get You Executed In North Korea

North Korea is arguably the most autocratic country in the world, ranking dead last on The Economist's Democracy Index behind the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, and Syria — a ranking it has held in every year since The Economist began publishing the index in 2006. Unsurprisingly, the regime also has some of the harshest punishments on Earth, with public executions still carried out for offenses that would barely attract notice in first-world countries (via Amnesty International).

Though the country is shrouded in a degree of secrecy unlike anywhere else on the planet — it does not allow access to independent human rights reporters, according to Amnesty International — what is known about the state's system of crime and punishment is incomparably punitive. In one recent example, it was reported a North Korean smuggler was sentenced to death for distributing copies of the hit South Korean show "Squid Game," according to Variety. The show features a character who is a desperate North Korean defector.

Crime and punishment under the Kims

North Korean authorities have long told human rights observers at Amnesty International that the death penalty is rarely used in their country, and only for the worst crimes. Indeed, the death penalty is likely used less in North Korea than in Iran, Iraq, or Saudi Arabia, according to estimates by outside groups (via The Guardian).

But North Korean defectors usually paint a different picture, offering reports of common and terrifying public executions to South Korean NGOs such as The Transitional Justice Working Group (via Los Angeles Times). According to the organization, the offenses that warranted execution were often as minor as stealing a cow, stripping wire from a power line, or watching South Korean television. Most of these executions were carried out by firing squad, according to the report.

Officially, North Korean law restricts executions to anti-state activities, such as "suppressing the national-liberation struggle" or terrorism, as well as "particularly serious cases" of murder, according to a recent Amnesty International report. In reality, according to defectors interviewed by the watchdog group, the crimes were usually apolitical, and for offenses as minor as stealing rice. Though almost all executions were of men, according to Amnesty International, there was a report of an execution in 1988 of a woman accused of stealing money from the restaurant where she worked.