Despite the televised images of mass public adulation of Kim Jong Un, a defector has told Sky News that support for the leader is significantly weaker than portrayed by the regime, with displays of loyalty coerced through fear.
The man asked us to hide his identity because his daughter is still inside North Korea, and would be in danger if he is recognised, but he wanted people to know the truth about life under the Kim regime.
He said living conditions had become harder, and privately many people were critical of his leadership, but nobody dared express those views in public.
“If you criticise Kim Jong Un you will go to a prison camp and not come back,” he said.
“In North Korean society you can do everything but criticise the Kim family.
“If you are caught, even if you have money, you won’t be able to survive.
“It’s a frightening system.”
“(In the camps) you are forced to labour and you live a life no better than a dog or a pig.
“It is better to die.”
We showed him some of the latest news footage from Pyongyang, featuring thousands of people apparently rallying in support of the leader in the city centre.
“These civilians, if the government tells them to come, they are gathered by the system, they’re forced to come, they don’t have the freedom not to,” he explained.
“I feel sorry for these people, they will all be cannon fodder.
“All this is for Kim Jong Un, this is all for the Kim family.
“People are scared.
“On the surface they look thankful, but none of it is genuine.”
He told us access to information about the outside world was increasing inside North Korea, but so was the regime’s control.
“Everyone is aware that there is no other place in the world as poor as North Korea, and that no other country suffers as much as our people do.
“We don’t follow the system because we like it, we are only following because we are scared of it.
“Never because we like it.
“Even the military people, corporals or captains, I’ve been to their houses, they are in a poor state.
“Most people don’t have loyalty, honestly.
“You can’t trust what’s on TV, it’s all forced.”
An NGO researching atrocities under the Kim regime has revealed how public executions are intended to instil fear of the government and to be witnessed by as many people as possible.
The Transitional Justice Working Group’s executive director Hubert Youngwhan Lee told Sky News: “The most commonly used locations are river banks, under bridges, markets, or even on school grounds, or public stadiums.
“There are certain types of locations that are frequently used for the public killings.”
Asked to clarify whether school grounds were being used for public executions, he replied: “Yes, school grounds, because North Korea uses this as a tool for instilling public fear of being punished by their government.”
He said public killings continue to be carried out under Mr Kim’s leadership, with testimony as recently as 2015, three years into his rule.
His colleague, researcher Sehyek Oh, who is from North Korea, has carried out 375 interviews so far with fellow defectors, including former officials, as they gather evidence ultimately intended to be used in court, to bring those responsible to justice.
The Seoul-based group is using mapping software to document locations believed to be used for mass graves and public executions by the regime.
For all of the current focus on Kim’s nuclear ambitions and the danger he poses overseas, they hope his crimes against his own people will not be forgotten.
A United Nations Commission of Inquiry reported in 2014 that crimes against humanity, involving extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, and deliberate starvation, were being committed in North Korea, with abuse on a scale without parallel in the contemporary world.
Another UN agency warned earlier this year that the country was suffering its most serious drought in 16 years, raising fears of worsening food shortages this autumn.