The latest round of the DPRK demonization is connected not only with the notorious “murder at the airport” incident, but also with other news, the main of which (as usual, with reference to South Korean intelligence) being information on the repression of the DPRK Minister of State Security, Kim Won-hong.
Kim Won-hong was one of Kim Jong-un’s closest assistants. In 2012, after the young leader’s ascension to power, he led the State Security Ministry and subsequently planned and carried out the arrest and execution of the leader’s uncle, Jang Song-thaek, in late 2013. However, as the Spokesperson for the Ministry of Unification of the Republic of Korea, Chong Chung-hee, stated on February 3, 2017, “In mid-January of this year, the Organizational Department of the Central Committee of the Korean Workers’ Party began an investigation against DPRK Minister of State Security Kim Won-hong, which was followed by his demotion from the position of Army General to Major-General and his subsequent dismissal from office.”
The official added that Kim had been accused of abuse of official authority (including the arbitrary use of torture and human rights violations) for the purposes of corruption. Since these types of cases are usually investigated in all North Korean State Security Ministry departments, the list of the people who will be punished can be very extensive.
Later, at a briefing with South Korean National Assembly deputies, Head of the Intelligence Service, Lee Byoung Ho, gave further details. Apparently, the reason for the dismissal was a report from the Organizational Department of the Central Committee of the Korean Workers’ Party, which stated that Kim Won-hong had been torturing innocent high-ranking party functionaries. Because of this, officials and the public had begun grumbling and complaining about the State Security Ministry officers. This eventually reached Kim Jong-un, who took action.
Following these events, five State Security Ministry deputy ministers also lost their lives by being “shot from large-caliber anti-aircraft guns” because of their mistakes. Even worse, Kim Jong-un stripped the department of the statue of Kim Jong-il, which had been installed on the territory of the ministry complex, and said that the State Security Ministry had no right to have a statue of Kim Jong-il. He immediately ordered its transfer to another location. Currently, according to Kyodo News, referring to government sources in South Korea, the State Security Ministry leadership is being repressed and executed, including at the level of deputy ministers. And it all began when, during a particular torture session, a prisoner died, while Head of the State, Kim Jong-un, allegedly had showed interest in his testimony.
In South Korea, the repressions were explained by the fact that “North Koreas are experiencing growing dissatisfaction with Kim Jong-un’s “rule of terror.” Therefore, the leader most likely decided to shift responsibility to the State Security Ministry in order to calm the people, although with a different approach or less bias, this news would be broadcast quite differently: you see, in a democratic country, even an all-powerful Head of State Security can be demoted on substantiated grounds of abuse! However, in the “State of Evil,” no one is justly punished, and therefore, as South Korean media put it, “Kim Won-hong supported the policy of fear pursued by the leadership of the North. In connection with his dismissal, according to experts, we can expect a weakening of control over the population and an aggravation of political instability: the purge may be related to the desire to shift responsibility for the policy of fear and complicating the living conditions of the population to individuals and the Ministry of State Security.”
Former diplomat and now renowned defector, Thae Yong-ho, also share his opinion: “I cannot confirm or deny the authenticity of the information. However, such a power struggle is a common occurrence in the DPRK’s history. Both Kim Jong-un and Kim Jong-il’s management methods have always been based on collective surveillance of the heads of each organization.” Thae also noted that Kim Jong-un has “killed” so many officials that this has aroused discontent and complaints from North Korea’s political elite.
This statement was made as part of a series of statements that detailed how Kim Jong-un was “eliminating the descendants of his grandfather’s associates, because he is afraid of the possibility of betrayal on the part of the elite strata of society, and many North Koreans are increasingly skeptical about the legitimacy of his power.”
By the way, how many people have been actually executed in the DPRK during the young leader’s reign? According to an article on the real situation in the DPRK that appeared in the White Paper, which is published by the National Security Strategy Institute under the South Korean National Intelligence Service, from the beginning of Kim Jong-un’s reign, “at least 340 people” have been physically destroyed. Among them are high-ranking officials, including the uncle of the North Korean leader Jang Song-thaek. In 2012, three of them were executed. In 2013, 30 more, in 2014, 40, and last year, 60. However, this does not include other “under-the-carpe
Despite these grim events, it is worth noting that the disappearance of an official from the public arena does not always mean his execution, as we noted earlier. And some of the people who are reported to have been “executed” later seem to resurrect. It is also interesting to recall the statement made by South Korean Foreign Affairs Minister Yun Byung-se on July 9, 2015, who claimed that since the coming to power of the current leader of the DPRK, only 70 people have been executed.
However, when exposing the regime becomes necessary, who is interested in figures and especially methods of collecting them? Here is a typical example. The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in the United States cites the results of a survey conducted among 36 North Koreans living in different provinces. The poll results indicate that 35 of them said that they were open to listening to critical opinions about the authorities in conversations with friends or family circles, although scolding the regime or laughing at it is considered a very risky action. No one is asking questions about whether only a handful of people (about 36) should be used as a representative sample for a country with a population of 25 million, or about how these data were obtained at all when the American experts hardly met with the respondents in person.
Here is another example. The Reporters Without Borders, an international non-governmental organization, has brought Kim Jong-un on the list of 35 enemies of press freedom of politicians and organizations in which free media activity is impossible at all. The list also includes the Russian President, the leader of Chechnya, the Presidents of Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Venezuela and Turkey, the King of Saudi Arabia and the Chairman of the PRC, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and the Taliban movement. A good question that no one is also bothered by is: What are the criteria for “media freedom,” and does the absence of data on the persecution of journalists indicate that journalists have been tortured so much so that there is no one else to persecute?
Moving further, the US non-governmental organization Freedom House has published its Freedom in the World 2017 periodic rating. North Korea scored 3 points out of 100 possible, so did Eritrea and Uzbekistan, ahead of Syria, which in general, had minus one. Finland, Norway and Sweden had the best indicators out of a 100. Canada scored 99 points, Australia – 98, the United States – 89, South Korea – 82. And again the question arises: What criteria were considered, and who conducted the evaluations?
Another good example is the “abductions,” which we somehow already touched. The United Nations Special Commission for the Investigation of Human Rights Violations in the North Korea 2014 report states that the total number of people that have been abducted by the North Korean side after 1950 may exceed 200,000 people. This number includes everyone who, being a South Korean citizen at the beginning of the war, found themselves in the territory of the North at the end of the war. Does a “good representative of a democratic country” choose the life of communism at will?
As a result, attempts to make the DPRK the main violator of human rights continue. In light of this, on February 23, 2017, members of the independent group of experts of the UN Human Rights Council, dealing with the issue of the responsibility of the North Korean authorities for the situation in the country, proposed placing North Korea on the list of countries with gross human rights violations and referring the case to the International Criminal Court. A proposal is also being put into place to establish an International Tribunal similar to that for Yugoslavia and Rwanda. The authors of the expert report are lawyer Sara Hossain and human rights activist Sonia Biserko, who has already disgraced herself by compiling the notorious report, as it has turned out that the testimony given by the fake Shin Dong-hyuk class witnesses was absolutely fallacious.
Later, on March 13th, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, Thomas Ojea Quintana, reiterated that the international community should put pressure on the DPRK to make Pyongyang begin following international norms. He noted in passing that the killing of Kim Jong-nam, the brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, is an event that demonstrates the real human rights situation in the North. However, the link to Pyongyang has not yet been officially confirmed, and the only person detained during the investigation was a DPRK citizen who was later released for lack of evidence. We have also outlined the popular history narrating how North Korean workers working abroad under difficult conditions are forced to give up the majority of their earnings to the state as a sign of loyalty to the system. Although the living conditions of North Korean migrants are well known, and getting into their ranks is prestigious, the topic of their suffering has recently become especially popular because in the struggle against labor export, they see a good way to strike at the country’s currency earnings.
In general, following the methods of the West, “the human rights situation in the DPRK is deteriorating, and the authorities in Pyongyang should be subject to criminal punishment for crimes against humanity.” Because of this, any methods can be game, and preparation for their execution is currently underway.
One can recall Thae Yong-ho‘s arguments on how to stimulate a popular uprising by separating the elite strata of society from Kim Jong-un. Although, according to experts, currently, the likelihood of a popular uprising in the DPRK is not high. This can always be explained by the fact that the population has grown accustomed to it, rather than by the absence of the necessary conditions. However, the penetration into the North Korean society of information about the external world and its accumulation can change the situation. It is worth recalling that the Foal Eagle maneuvers include joint exercises of Special Forces of the United States and South Korea. On the American side, army rangers, Delta Force, green berets and DEVGRU (the Navy Seal Team Six), including the unit that captured and killed Bin Laden, are training for “the skills necessary to eliminate the DPRK military command and disable the army’s key infrastructure”. Yes, “nothing is excluded”: if someone has been successfully demonized, any actions against such a person are naturally permissible.
Konstantin Asmolov, PhD in History, Leading Research Fellow at the Center for Korean Studies of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”