In fact, the Supreme Court of the government led by Kim Jong-il has not changed its penal law: instead it has published - giving it the force of law - an "addendum" that provides "new additional penalties for crimes already punishable under the normal code”. For example, the smuggling or counterfeiting of currency, which until last year was punished with a prison sentence of ten years, now leads directly to the scaffold. The Addendum dates back to 2007, but its existence was made public only in recent days.
This is because, say the dissidents, the government was not convinced of the need to enact it. After the famine last year, and especially after the halt to international humanitarian aid after Pyongyang's nuclear test, there has been a dramatic increase in crimes committed in the territory. Statistics, says an interlocutor, anonymous for security reasons, "speak of an increase of 40%, but do not take into account the fact that now stealing even a bowl of rice is considered a serious crime."
In a further effort to discourage "crime", the North Korean government has decided to increase the number of public executions, to which the population is forced to assist by public security. Furthermore, the added penalties provide that - in case of flagrant offences - the death sentence "may be practiced without due process."
Professor Park Jung-won, of the South Korean Kookmin University, explains: "These changes are intended to preserve, through the law, the opportunity to punish not only the worst offenders but also ordinary ones. In this way, the North Korean authorities can also get rid of those who, until now, were ordinary citizens. Trials are no longer needed, its enough to point a finger at someone. "