More than 300 sites used by North Korea’s communist regime to carry out public executions of its citizens and extrajudicial state killings as part of an arbitrary and aggressive use of the death penalty designed to intimidate its citizens, have been uncovered by a South Korea-based human rights group.

The Transitional Justice Working Group (TJWG), based in Seoul, said it had pinpointed at least 323 sites after four years of research and interviews with more than 600 North Korean defectors.

Testimonies from more than 600 North Korean defectors claim the government routinely carries out public executions, often at river banks, markets or in schools.

The South Korea-based Transitional Justice Working Group released a map showing dozens of locations where North Koreans were reportedly publicly executed for crimes related to theft, violence and politics.

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“Public executions are to remind people of particular policy positions that the state has,” said the TJWG research director, Sarah A Son. “But the second and more powerful reason is it instils a culture of fear among ordinary people.“

The survey of 610 North Korean defectors living in South Korea included 19 reports of more than 10 people being executed at the same time.

Crowds, often of hundreds of people, and sometimes 1,000 or more, would gather to watch the executions. The youngest person to witness a public execution was seven, the group said.

The group found that 35 reports of public executions came from one particular river bank, with executions taking place at the unidentified location every decade since the 1960s. Six of the executions were by hanging and 29 by firing squad, the group said.

Reuters was unable to independently confirm any of the accounts in the report.

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North Korea is one of the worst violators of human rights and religious freedom in the world. Christians face persecution and severe punishment for worshipping outside state-controlled churches.

North Korea is the most dangerous country in the world for Christians. It has been the Number one country where it is Most Dangerous To Be Christian for 18 years now according to Open Doors USA annual list.

The TJWG is a non-government organisation founded by human rights advocates and researchers from South Korea and four other countries. The group released a report in 2017 based on a smaller number of interviews. It said the latest report was better sourced.

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The new report was made possible by funding from the Washington-based National Endowment for Democracy, which is funded by the US Congress.

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