A husband and wife have been executed by firing squad after being caught trying to flee North Korea with their 14-year-old nephew.
The couple, thought to be in their 50s, were trying to escape from their home in Hyensan, Ryanggang province amid the country’s strict coronavirus quarantine, according to reports.
The couple wanted to bring their teenage nephew back to his parents in South Korea, locals speaking under anonymity told RFA Korean Service.
One said: ‘Earlier this month I heard from an acquaintance in the provincial security department that a family who tried to escape the country was shot to death.
‘They were arrested for attempting to escape [across] the border, which is now heavily controlled due to the national emergency quarantine against the coronavirus.’
The couple, thought to be in their 50s, were trying to escape from their home in Hyensan, Ryanggang province, to the South amid the country’s strict coronavirus quarantine. Pictured, file image shows tractors crossing the vast Kaektu plain in Ryanggang province
The boy was the son of the wife’s younger brother, who had previously fled to the South, reports added.
He escaped execution because of his age but his uncle and aunt were shot without a trial after being tortured into admitting their plans, it was claimed.
The story of their death has spread around the region through word of mouth.
Before their escape attempt the couple had been having difficulties with their business because of the affect of coronavirus lockdown, locals said.
One said they were planning on fleeing across the Yalu river into China, before making their way South, but were arrested before they made it that far.
North Korean authorities have denied the existence of coronavirus outbreaks but have lectured citizens internally about pockets of infection, including in the capital Pyongyang.
North Korean Premier Kim Jae Ryon, right top, has a meeting at the emergency anti-epidemic headquarter in Pyongyang, North Korea, in February
In February North Korean officials were pictured holding a meeting wearing face masks, despite claims there were no infections.
It came after a report from South Korea accused the regime of executing an official for flouting quarantine procedure to visit a public bath.
North Korea has not yet confirmed any cases of the virus, but has closed the land border with China, which reported a total of 4,634 deaths from the outbreak – although it is widely believed the true extent of deaths has been covered up.
Experts fear that Kim Jong-Un’s regime is covering up its infection rate to not appear weak in the eyes of the international community.
‘There is no way that North Korea is not being impacted by the coronavirus — they are clearly lying as they don’t want to show any weakness or that there is any threat to the regime,’ Harry Kazianis, director of Korean Studies at the Center for National Interest, told Fox News.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (pictured) imposed drastic quarantine measures – which reportedly led to a trade official’s execution for visiting a public bath
From ex-girlfriends to ‘missing’ relatives , previous high-profile North Korean executions
Singer Hyon Song Wol, 2013
South Korean media claimed in 2013 that singer Hyon Song Wol had been executed by firing squad in a salacious sex tape scandal.
One newspaper even described her as Kim Jong-un’s ‘ex-girlfriend’.
However, she was very much alive and later emerged as a key member of Kim’s government, accompanying him in his meetings with Donald Trump.
Kim’s uncle Jang Song Thaek, 2013
Kim’s uncle was executed in 2013 after a special military tribunal found him guilty of treason.
South Korea’s spy agency had initially revealed the purge, saying that Jang had been removed from office and an aide sentenced to death.
In a rare public admission, North Korea subsequently confirmed the purge and announced that Jang himself had been executed.
Official media claimed Jang had been plotting to seize power since the death of Kim’s father Kim Jong-il in 2011.
Military chief Ri Yong Gil, 2016
Seoul intelligence officials claimed in 2016 that military chief Ri Yong Gil had been condemned to death for corruption and other charges.
The report appeared to be bolstered when official updates described someone else as chief of general staff, indicating that Ri had lost his job.
However, state media later said that Ri was still alive and in possession of several new senior posts.
Ri later returned to his post as chief of the military staff in 2018.
Vice premier Kim Yong Jin, 2016
Claims of Kim Yong Jin’s death came straight from officials at Seoul’s Unification Ministry in 2016.
Seoul said that Kim was executed by firing squad for unspecified anti-revolutionary and factional acts.
He had also allegedly sparked anger for not keeping his posture upright at a public event.
North Korea has not confirmed or denied the report, but Kim has never reappeared in public.
Nuclear negotiator Kim Yong Chol, 2019
A South Korean newspaper reported last May that the North’s top nuclear negotiator Kim Yong Chol had been exiled to hard labour after a failed summit with Trump.
The report claimed that senior envoy Kim Hyok Chol was executed in the same purge.
The claim about Kim Yong Chol’s exile proved false within days when official media published pictures of him sitting at a concert just a few seats away from Kim Jong-un.
Experts said the pictures also cast serious doubt on the claim of Kim Hyok Chol’s execution, because he was the more junior official.
‘Considering how there are many porous sections of the North Korea-China border — and how the Kim regime depends on illegal trade to survive — it is clear the virus has come to North Korea.’
Some South Korean media outlets have reported multiple cases of the new coronavirus, formally known as COVID-19, and even possible deaths in the North.
Nagi Shafik, former project manager for WHO in Pyongyang, told the South China Morning Post that many women and children don’t have enough to eat, leaving them malnourished, which means the virus would be able to pick them off easily.
He added that the country lacks basic medications, such as antibiotics, and that they are especially difficult to obtain in rural areas.
Fears of a cover-up operation come as a trade official was arrested and immediately shot after risking the spread of coronavirus by visiting the public bath, the South Korean Dong-a Ilbo newspaper reported.
The official had been placed in isolation after travelling to China, with Kim Jong-un imposing military law to enforce the lockdown, sources said.
The trade official was reportedly quarantined under a policy of isolating anyone who had been to China or had contact with Chinese people.
He is said to have fallen foul of a decree by Kim Jong-un which vowed to ‘rule by military law’ against anyone who left quarantine without approval.
Another official is said to have been exiled to a North Korean farm after trying to cover up his travels to China.
The second official was reportedly a member of the secretive kingdom’s National Security Agency.
Claims of blundering officials being purged or executed are common in North Korea and are very hard to verify.
Last year, widespread rumours that a top official had been exiled over a failed summit with Donald Trump proved incorrect when he appeared with Kim in public.
In February Pyongyang announced that quarantines had been extended to 30 days, beyond the 14-day period recommended by world health bosses.
Government institutions and foreigners living in North Korea were expected to obey it ‘unconditionally’, North Korean media said.
North Korea has almost completely closed the border with China, its only major diplomatic ally.
Flights have been reduced with road and rail links either closed or heavily restricted, while foreign tourists have been banned.
The DMZ between North and South Korea is already heavily fortified and very few people cross it in any case.
Pyongyang has also suspended operations at a liaison office it has jointly run with South Korea located just north of the border.
State media reported that North Korea’s Red Cross Society had deployed to ‘relevant areas’ around the country to monitor people with possible symptoms.
‘They are conducting information activities in various forms and by various methods at public places to introduce common medical knowledge about the epidemic and encourage people to give fuller play to the noble moral traits of helping and leading each other forward,’ KCNA reported.
Tens of thousands of North Korean workers were believed to be working in China before a UN order for Beijing to send them back home expired in December.
A health worker in protective gear carries a disinfectant spray can on their way to inspect arrivals at Pyongyang Airport in North Korea
It was unknown how many of them have returned home.
World Health Organisation officials based in Pyongyang have said they are not aware of any confirmed cases.
North Korea took similar tough quarantine measures during the 2002-03 spread of SARS, which also began in China.
The North did not report any SARS cases at the time, according to the South Korean government.