A shadowy dissident group dedicated to overthrowing the North Korean regime has released footage purporting to show a person inside the totalitarian state destroying portraits of national founder Kim Il-sung and second-generation dictator Kim Jong-il.
Cheollima Civil Defense on Thursday released a short video on its website of a figure, whose face is blurred, removing portraits of current leader Kim Jong-un's grandfather and father from a wall and smashing them on the ground.
During the 34-second clip, captions in Korean and English describe the scene as occurring recently on "our homeland's soil", followed by "Down with Kim family rule!" and, "For our people we rise up! Long live Free Joseon!"
The video has been viewed more than 20,000 times on YouTube.
Desecrating the image of the ruling Kim dynasty, whose portraits adorn every building and public place in North Korea, is considered a heinous crime in a country where the leadership enjoys godlike status.
"Without question, you'd be executed by firing squad," said Ken Eom, a former North Korean military officer who defected to South Korea in 2010.
Eom, however, said he had serious doubts that the video was filmed inside the North, especially as the room resembles an institute where North Koreans are forced to study the Kims' family history.
As well as floor tiling and a computer chair that would be unusual in the isolated country, Eom said such a bold display of resistance in public would be incredibly risky.
"For example, it would be possible for someone at home to quietly tear up a portrait of Kim Il-sung " something like that is possible," he said. "But I think a performance like this is impossible."
Eom said the figure in the video was most likely a North Korean defector based outside the country.
Free Joseon is the name that Cheollima, which describes itself as a government in exile, intends to use for a future state after the "liberation" of the North, which the Kims have ruled with an iron fist since 1948.
A 2014 UN Commission of Inquiry report found the North responsible for human rights violations that it said were without "parallel in the contemporary world", including murder, torture, rape and forced abortions.
The release of the footage comes after Cheollima on Sunday appealed to media to respect its anonymity and announced the sale of 200,000 "visas" to visit Free Joseon after the fall of the Kim dynasty.
Although its membership and funding remain shrouded in secrecy, the group has been described by some experts as potentially the most organised and audacious opposition to emerge against the Kim dynasty in seven decades.
Last week, The Washington Post reported that the mysterious group was responsible for a daring raid on the North Korean embassy in Madrid during which a group of intruders tied up staff before making off with computers and mobile phones. Spanish media had earlier reported that local authorities had found evidence of involvement by figures connected with the CIA, to which the American spy agency issued an "unconvincing" denial.
The Washington Post report, which cited unnamed sources, said Cheollima had carried out the raid without the help of any government.
The group has yet to claim responsibility, although a Twitter account bearing its name posted a link to the report on Thursday with the comment, "leaving the shadows".
Cheollima first rose to prominence in 2017 when it claimed credit for evacuating Kim Jong-un's nephew Kim Han-sol from Macau. The 23-year-old appeared in a video released by the movement after his father Kim Jong-nam was assassinated in Kuala Lumpur in a hit suspected to have been directed by Pyongyang.
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