Hundreds of public execution sites near schools, stadiums and rivers revealed across North Korea

Will Metcalfe
North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un. (AP)

Hundreds of sites used to carry out public executions have been identified in North Korea, reports claim.

South Korean non-governmental organisation, the Transitional Justice Working Group, has published a report claiming it has identified 318 sites across its neighbouring country used by the government for public executions.

The claims are based on interviews with 610 North Korean defectors over a four-year period.

According to the report the killings took place near rivers, fields, markets, schools, and sports grounds.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, right, waves to spectators and participants of a military parade celebrating the 65th anniversary of the country's founding in Pyongyang, North Korea, in 2013. (AP)

The report, entitled Mapping the fate of the dead, was published on Tuesday and revealed that macabre gatherings of up to 1,000 people would turnout to witness the executions.

Shocking details reveal that children as young as seven were taken to watch the killings and family members were often forced to watch relatives sentenced to death.

Some public executions take place inside detention facilities such as prisons and labour camps - where people convicted of political crimes are forced into physical work such as mining and logging.

One defector held in a labour camp in the early 2000s described how 80 inmates were made to watch the killing of three women charged with trying to escape to China.

Along with firing squads public hangings have taken pace in North Korea though it's believed they have been scaled back since 2005. Stock image. (Getty)

They said a Ministry of People's Security officer told the crowd: "This could happen to you."

The report said executions are "a core method of inciting fear and deterring citizens from engaging in activities deemed undesirable by the regime".

Defectors said firing squads are the most common method used, with three gunmen firing shots at the condemned.

Some of those interviewed claimed that the death squads are often drunk, in a bid to cushion themselves from the effect of carrying out the death sentence.

Some interviewees cited occasions when those carrying out the execution appeared to be drunk.

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Hangings also take place but they are said to be less common with some speculation they may have stopped in 2005.

Ethan Shin, one of the report's authors, told AFP that "it looks like the number of public executions is on a downward trend", but that Pyongyang may simply be operating with more secrecy "as it seeks recognition as a normal state".

High-ranking North Korean officials have been executed in the past. In 2013, the uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was condemned for treason.

But reports of killings are notoriously hard to verify, and have also turned out to be untrue - such as claims popular North Korean singer Hyon Song-wol was publicly executed in 2013 but five years later she reappeared in 2018 as part of a North Korean delegation visiting Seoul ahead of the Winter Olympics.

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