South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) walked back its initial report that North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un brutally executed his defense minister Hyon Yong Chol for sleeping during meetings. Now they believe the dictator purged him, but he could still be alive.
North Korea is so obscure and heavily protected it is hard to believe any news reported from the outside on it. Information from one source is almost always contradicted by information from another.
A report on Thursday claimed Kim charged Hyon “with treason and disobedience and had him executed in front of hundreds of North Korean officials with an anti-aircraft gun” at close range. The NIS said satellite images show numerous prisoners executed with the same type of gun.
“Because there are several guns bound together, it would be hard to find the body after firing it once,” explained Hong Hyun-ik, chief researcher at Seoul’s Sejong Institute. “It’s really gruesome. What they did would have ripped all his flesh off, done in the manner of ‘let’s see what sort of punishment this is.”
Now there are doubts the execution ever took place. Hyon was seen at a concert only a day or two before he allegedly died.
“We’ve seen Hyon even yesterday on TV,” said Shin Kyoung-min, a South Korean lawmaker. “If North Korea really executed their No. 2 man in charge of defense, they would make sure he disappears on every single program. That’s definitely their style.”
Even if he was only removed from power and not killed, Hyon would not appear in any films. Some South Korean analysts said Hyon is “still shown alongside North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, in old propaganda films this week.”
When anyone falls out of favor with Kim, the person is quickly edited out of photographs and videos. The regime essentially erases the person from history. The international media is also always hungry to report the latest from South Korea about the trigger-happy dictator, though the most gruesome stories that have surfaced on the internet were proven false. Kim did not execute a former girlfriend for appearing in porn videos and he did not feed his uncle Jang Song Thaek to 12 starving dogs.
Experts are even skeptical on stories from defectors. A man only known as Mr. Park told CNN Kim ordered his people to murder his aunt Kim Kyong Hui, the daughter of North Korean founder Kim Il-sung. She allegedly vocalized many complaints after Kim Jong-un executed her husband Jang Song Thaek in December 2013. Such an order to kill a direct descendent of Kim Il-Sung is unprecedented, as he is revered as a god in the repressive kingdom. His kin are thought to be untouchable.
Remco Breuker, a professor of Korean studies at Leiden University in the Netherlands, told The Independent he doubts Park’s claims. He does think Kim Kyong Hui is ill, but alive. He does not believe Kim Jong-un would ever murder a blood relative.
“The report comes from a defector whose family name is given but nothing else. Usually when defectors break stories–and they do and they are often reliable–you know who is saying what,” he said. “This is the kind of thing the public likes to believe about North Korea. I talked to other analysts and they were actually very angry; they said the chances that this actually happened are very, very slim, but once it gets exposed, it’s those who have been exiled who have to pay the price.”
North Korean defector Shin Dong-hyuk, probably the most famous defector, admitted he “altered” stories in his best-selling book Escape From Camp 14. The Washington Post journalist Blaine Harden, who wrote the book, stated in a new forward that Shin “sanitized” his story and “largely stuck to it for nine years after his 2005 escape.” Harden said trauma experts know this is common for victims to do this, but “his story made him an international celebrity.” After he changed the forward, The Washington Post published an article that insists Harden did everything he could to verify Shin’s story, but that even these defectors are not the best sources.
In 2003, North Korean nuclear scientist Kyong Won-ha, the man allegedly behind the regime’s nuclear weapons program, defected to America. Information quickly revealed the get was not as top notch as authorities believed. One source told South Korea Kyong “was not a particularly important figure, and had been involved with only lesser technologies.”