Posters for candidates in recent local elections were allegedly damaged in Hyesan, Yangkang Province, leading to an official investigation.
Most strikingly, a number of sources have independently reported that the phrase ‘Supporting Lee Myung Bak’ was found on a poster in at least one case, and that as a result the security authorities have declared it a case of espionage. An investigation team has been established by the provincial Party, with city National Security Agency and People’s Safety Ministry agents at its core.
This is noteworthy because, according to defectors and inside sources, although there have been cases of torn election posters in the past, this is the first time that a prominent South Korean politician has been cited, much less the oft-criticized President Lee Myung Bak.
One Yangkang Province source explained the scene, saying, “On posters introducing candidates for the elections stuck up at a shoe factory and a steel factory in Songbong 1-dong in Hyesan, the phrase ‘Supporting Lee Myung Bak’ and the names of candidates blacked out with a marker pen were found on the 19th.”
“The People’s Safety Ministry and National Security Agency have designated it an espionage case and have been conducting surveillance of citizens living around the factories and visitors from other provinces,” the source added.
Despite the uncompetitive nature of North Korean elections, the authorities have always put up posters introducing candidates in big industrial enterprises, local government offices and People’s Safety Ministry offices (police stations) two weeks prior to election day.
The factories where these particular events happened both employ 100 to 150 workers and are located around four kilometers from Hyesan Station. At the entrance to the factories there is a major road linking them to the downtown core, so many people do pass by in daytime. Therefore, in election seasons the authorities put posters up on the walls of the front gate guard’s office at both factories.
However, after 7PM when the factory workers go home and the jangmadang closes, there are not many people around. In addition, there is no street lighting, only one light at the main gate of each factory, and even this light does not work often due to electricity supply problems. It is apparently so dark that it is not easy to see what is going on, according to people from the city. This has made nearby areas a hotbed of crime. Therefore, it would have been relatively simple to tear up and scribble on the election posters.
One defector who used to live in Hyesan explained, “That neighborhood has long been a place where PSM agents are reluctant to patrol because there have been so many burglary cases there,” and added, “The Auto Repair Factory is also right next to a PSM office, so patrols are rare. At night, so are people.”
City security authorities consider these incidents to have been done by people who are well accustomed to the city, since both cases happened in places with many pedestrians during the daytime but no one at night. Therefore, they have narrowed down the suspects to local residents and regular visitors from other cities and provinces accordingly. However, according to sources, they have not found any clear evidence.
Since one of the candidates is the manager of the Shoe Factory, however, the authorities have been investigating factory workers who might have harbored a grudge against him.
In a similar case, back on the 8th a source reported that ‘X’ signs had been found on election posters on the wall of the guard’s office at an auto repair factory in Hyehwa-dong. Again, it is a place where few people pass by at night.
Immediately after that incident, there were apparently people’s unit meetings covering how it is critical to “Raise revolutionary awareness ever higher since the maneuvers of counter-revolutionary and anti-Party reactionaries have been emerging in order to disturb elections to the Local People’s Assembly, a sovereign provincial entity.”
The source said, “When a graffiti case happened on the 8th, the authorities thought it was caused by an individual due to a grudge. However this time it mentions the South Chosun president’s name, so people think it is not a normal case. And they worry about it.’”
“Even before the election, they told us not to go trading and to prepare election-related events, and now they are causing a commotion to catch the culprit,” he went on. “As soon as a series of graffiti incidents happens, people think it is ‘a sign of collapse’ or that ‘the country has reached at the end.’”
Meanwhile, Chosun Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on the 26th that in the provincial delegate elections to the Local People’s Assembly, 99.97% of voters took part, and 100 % of them voted for candidates.