16.04.2014 Author: Konstantin Asmolov

Kim Jong-un and a flamethrower

22Another piece of news from North Korea has been spreading in media and the Internet. Kim Jong-un “burns enemies with a flamethrower”. In a literal sense. The following article is typical for broadcasting this shocking event.

Terrible news keeps coming from North Korea. Kim Jong-un, the leader of the most closed country in the world, burned the Minister of Public Security O Sang-hon with a flamethrower. The official was guilty of being close to Jang Song-taek, uncle of the Head of State, who was executed in winter of last year, according to the Daily Mail.

The unfortunate official was declared an enemy of the state and sentenced to death by the court. According to Kim Jong-un, O Sang-hon had turned the ministry entrusted to him into his personal guard and concealed blatant cases of corruption at the highest levels. The leader of the DPRK had chosen to deal with the traitor personally…

Yes, a leader of the state, who personally executes his enemies, is a vivid sign of the Evil Empire. It remains to be verified to what extent this news is true.

Both Russian and foreign reposts are based on an article in the Daily Mail. There are no other parallel sources of information. Well, let us read the Daily Mail to find out where this information came from there, and if there were any misrepresentations in the process of the translation. The article is available here.

The phrase that “A senior North Korean official has been executed with a flamethrower after Kim Jong-un branded him an ‘enemy of the state’, it has been claimed” has to do with the topic of this article.

Thus, it is reported that a senior North Korean official has been executed with a flamethrower after Kim Jong-un branded him an enemy of the state. However, it was also “reported” that the South Korean newspaper The Chosun Ilbo was the source of the information.

For those who do not know this name. The Chosun Ilbo (literally – the Korean daily newspaper) is an extreme right mainstream newspaper, as well as the most widely circulated and popular newspaper in the Republic of Korea (RK). It can be called a mouthpiece of the right-wing conservative circles in the RK, and it often publishes materials that are not supported by other publications. Thus, it was according to The Chosun Ilbo that China sent troops to the North Korean Rason Free Economic Zone (FEZ) to ensure the safety of its personnel and infrastructure. Official Beijing denied this information, calling it an “utter nonsense” and even a hypothetical deployment of troops was called an “absolutely unthinkable thing”.

This newspaper turned the news of a skirmish in a market, against the background of the beginning of the Arab Spring, into: “Hundreds of people clashed with security forces”, even though the South Korean news agency Yonhap did not confirm any facts of mass unrest.

The same newspaper launched “newspaper canards” that “Kim Jong-un once again decided to kill his older brother, but Beijing interfered”. It also threw in the story that the resignation of the head of the General Staff of the DPRK Army, Lee Yong-ho, was accompanied by a skirmish in which 20 – 30 soldiers were killed. However, they had to note later on that the fact of a skirmish “cannot be confirmed one hundred percent” and more time was required to establish all the circumstances.

Moreover, in its search for “millions of the Kim family”, The Chosun Ilbo even found a Korean track of the “Russian mafia”. Citing a defector from North Korea, who was not named, as usual, the newspaper notes that to “launder money” and to spread counterfeit foreign currency in Russia, North Korea allegedly resorted to the services of the “Russian mafia”, and thus was able to launder about $30 million through these criminal structures in 2008 alone.

The Chosun Ilbo “enriched” our lexicon with the phrase “execution with a mortar”, because it was according to its information (despite the fact that it is almost completely impossible from the technical point of view) that a general was executed in the DPRK this way, who either cried too little at the funeral of Kim Jong-il, or arranged a “big booze-up with girls” during the days of mourning. Allegedly, Kim Jong-un demanded that there would be no piece left from this scoundrel.

The most recent shocking news from this source was devoted to the execution of members of a popular band, including the supposed ex-lover of Kim Jong-un. If we are to believe the newspaper, those executed were devout Christians and starred in porn movies at the same time, and the execution was attended by their relatives and colleagues who were sent to detention camps immediately after the execution. However, we have already analyzed this story.

The Daily Mail notes: “Although the reports of Mr. O’s brutal end have not been officially confirmed, it would not be the first time Kim Jong-un had ordered unconventional execution methods”. In other words, although there are no official confirmations of the information on the execution or its character, it is not the first time that Kim Jong-un has used unconventional methods. This report is followed by the story of the execution with a mortar and the recap that Jang Song-taek was torn to pieces by dogs. There is a note that the news about dogs is surely a fake, yet in the end, it serves to leave a bad taste in the mouth.

Let us move from the Western to Korean websites. The government agency of the RK, Yonhap, reports nothing about it, and we immediately go to the website of The Chosun Ilbo, where we find the only text where a flamethrower is mentioned.

The Chosun Ilbo writes about this news in English as follows: “The North Korean regime has shut down the Workers Party department once headed by purged eminence grise Jang Song-taek and executed or interned 11 high-ranking officials, sources said Sunday.
One of them was burned alive. … O Sang-hon, a deputy minister at the Ministry of Public Security, was “executed by flamethrower”, the source said. The reason for the horrific method that he had turned the ministry into Jang’s personal protection squad, the source added. O managed a bureau in the ministry as his personal security service, and raised its status to the same rank as officials guarding leader Kim Jong-un”.

Thus, “the source says that the deputy minister of the Ministry of Public Security was executed by flamethrower. The reason for such a penalty was that he had turned the ministry into a personal fiefdom of late Jang Song-taek, which protected him and his interests.

In general, it is quite possible to believe that the Deputy Minister could be on the top of a corruption pyramid, in conditions of widespread corruption in the DPRK. And against the background of the launched purges, which are perceived as the fight against corruption by some people, and as the destruction of Jang’s supporters in the fight for power by others (in my opinion, these versions are quite complementary to each other), O Sang-hon could be a victim of this.

Such purges are being conducted not only in the DPRK, but also in China. Today, the case of Zhou Yongkang, who was a member of the Permanent Committee of the Politburo of the Central Committee of WPC, uniting the top leaders of the country, is underway there. In addition, Zhou was the Minister of Public Security and supervised all power structures. Although current and former members of the Politburo of the CP have not been prosecuted since the mid-1970s, today Zhou is under house arrest within an investigation of a case of corruption. Assets worth 90 billion yuans (14.5 billion USD) were seized from his associates and relatives, more than 300 family members, associates and protégés of the former senior functionary were detained. Thus, like in the story with Jang Song-taek, this is the first case in China when an official of such a high rank has been repressed, who either did not manage to share power with the current President of the PRC, or was smeared so much that the state could not avoid taking measures.

However, let us go back to Korea. Firstly, we can see that, as usual, The Chosun Ilbo refers to an anonymous source, the origin of which is not specified at all. Secondly, the burned deputy minister received a “posthumous promotion”, and Russian media call him the minister. Although, judging by the results of the session of the National Assembly of the DPRK, General Choe Pu-il (the man who was accused of Hitler-worship by South Korean propagandists) remained the Minister of Public Security and a member of the State Defense Committee and appeared on the ceremonial photographs as such. Thirdly, either for the reasons of propaganda, or because of the “quality” of the translation, the passage that Kim Jong-un had had someone executed, turned into the allegation that Kim executed someone personally, but not ordered it to be done. However, although neither the Daily Mail nor The Chosun Ilbo wrote that Kim Jong-un burned someone PERSONALLY, the audience can enjoy the results of Internet search by keyword “Kim Jong-un burns people personally”

What do we have as the bottom line? This time it is a real roasted canard… with a flamethrower. All journalists refer to the Daily Mail, the Daily Mail refers to The Chosun Ilbo, which is well known for its anti-North Korean position and a large number of previously released canards about the DPRK, and The Chosun Ilbo refers to an unnamed source, once again. I am afraid that this source potentially exists only in the imagination of authors of such “hot news”. Nevertheless, the DPRK is in the sights of hostile propaganda, the mass audience loves horror and sensationalism, and this fact, combined with the closed nature of North Korea and its reputation, makes editors reluctant to throw such canards directly into the wastebasket. Because – what if they are true!!

In addition, the news about the execution with a flamethrower coincided with the approval of Kim Jong-un as the head of the Defense Committee on April 9, 2014. I am not sure that this is a mere coincidence, and I am looking forward to some new shocking “information”, where the masters of preparing and spreading of disinformation report that – “according to absolutely credible reports by anonymous sources, Kim Jong-un will crush his enemies with a tank, or sacrifice humans to the dark gods – as befits the ruler of an Evil Empire.”

Konstantin Asmolov, PhD in History, Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Korean Studies at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.


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