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In dramatic show of restraint, North Korea publicly executes only 80 people for watching soap operas

Reports this week revealed that large crowds of people

Reports this week alleged that earlier this month North Korea gathered tens of thousands of people in stadiums throughout the country in order to bare witness to the execution of individuals accused of watching illegal South Korean TV shows. If confirmed, the move would seem to indicate that the regime may now be adopting a softer approach to governing.

According to South Korean newspaper JoongAng, earlier this month the regime of Kim Jong Un (the portly, sad-looking fellow pictured above) publicly executed around 80 people throughout North Korea–in one case in front of a stadium filled with 10,000 spectators. Many of those killed by firing squad had allegedly been charged with watching illicit television shows smuggled in from South Korea.

This relatively mild action by the government in Pyongyang marks a dramatic shift from the days when 150,000 spectators were gathered in an ostensibly larger stadium in 2009 in order to watch the execution of a factory owner accused of making international calls (Note that as the crowd left the stadium on that brisk October day, six people were crushed to death and 34 more were injured. Oh, you know how crazy sports fans can get). The recent episode also signals a welcome change of direction from the days in 2012 when the regime would very creatively use a “mortar firing squad” in order to blow prisoners to pieces via artillery shell, thus–as Kim Jong Un was reported to have instructed a military officer–leaving “no trace of him behind, down to his hair.”

This month’s more deliberative approach to punishing criminal activity also stands in stark contrast to last year’s public execution of Kim Jong Un’s own ex-girlfriend, who was machine-gunned down in front of her family. Indeed, a more prudent mindset in Pyongyang may be emerging, as Kim Jong Un realizes that, logistically, it’s simply unfeasible to convene loud, boisterous crowds in stadiums without having to then provide snacks, souvenirs, electricity, or potable water. If so, North Koreans will undoubtedly be able to enjoying increasingly intimate and more carefully choreographed public executions well into the future.

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