The former head of the ruling Workers’ Party’s science and education department, Choe Sang Gon, has been sent to a political prison camp, Daily NK has learned. 

Choe was rebuked during an enlarged meeting of the Second Politburo of the Eighth Central Committee in late June.

A source in North Korea told Daily NK that Choe was transported to a political prison camp in North Hamgyong Province within 48 hours of being arrested during the enlarged meeting of the politburo. “Word is only now quietly emerging as it’s been over a month since this happened,” he said.

According to the source, Choe fell afoul of the party for negligence in activities focused on child education, a focus of the Workers’ Party. There had been earlier speculation that he was punished for failing to carry out party decisions regarding COVID-19 vaccine and treatment development, given his position as head of the party’s science and education department, which oversees the public health sector. However, the source reiterated that he was punished for failings in the educational sector.

In fact, Choe was missing when high-ranking party, government and military cadres paid tribute to late North Korean leader Kim Il Sung at the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun on the 27th anniversary of his death on July 8. This contrasted with other cadres who were sacked or demoted during the enlarged meeting of the politburo such as Ri Pyong Chol and Pak Jong Chon, amplifying speculation as to Choe’s fate.

“With the coronavirus pandemic breaking out, educational doctrine – considered a ‘legal task’ in the country – became a mess,” said the source. “In this situation, the person responsible for the party’s educational policies was punished because he did not formulate proper strategies to implement educational doctrine, leading to a grave problem in carrying out revolutionary tasks.”

This is to say, Choe was accused of failing to properly provide class hours as per educational doctrine due to COVID-19, and displayed an “easy-going” approach to promoting and graduating all students despite plummeting educational standards. This, the authorities claimed, created major problems in education efforts to transform the next generation into revolutionaries.

Kim Hyong Sik, the head of the party’s justice department, criticized Choe during the enlarged politburo meeting, saying that “implementing educational doctrine is the standard for determining whether you’re moving the revolution forward and making a retreat.” He further claimed that “an irrevocable error had occurred in revolutionary tasks because educational doctrine was not properly followed” and that “to call those who fail to carry out the party’s educational doctrine anti-party and counter-revolutionary doesn’t go far enough.”

ri pyong chol
Kim Jong Un at the leadership podium during the Party Foundation Day military parade in Pyongyang on Oct. 10, 2020. / Image: KCNA

The source said Kim and other critics called for Choe’s immediate and severe punishment, slamming his record. Ultimately, agents of the Ministry of Social Security’s special security bureau dragged him off. “After he was dragged from the meeting venue, he was immediately handed over to the Ministry of State Security,” he said. 

Choe’s wife told the Ministry of State Security that she wanted a divorce, which freed the rest of his family from being sent to a political prison camp. However, they were immediately forced out of their official residence – provided to officials of Choe’s rank – and expelled from Pyongyang. 

The source said the meeting room fell silent when Choe was dragged off, with participants so fearful they were “afraid to even breathe.” 

“They thought that tomorrow they could be next, since everyone – despite working in different sectors – is facing the coronavirus. So nobody said anything while this was happening, frightened even more than they were when Jang Song Thaek was punished,” he added. 

Quiet grumbling by educational officials has been growing since the incident. They believe it is nonsense for the authorities to tell them to carry out educational doctrine while at the same time ordering them against gathering students together.

“Educational officials say what happened to Choe was absurd,” said the source. “Remote classes are impossible because many people don’t own computers and tablet computers, and there aren’t enough teachers to conduct classes via home visits. So they are saying nobody- not even Choe – could have done anything.

“If there’s a problem, the party should present plans [to improve the situation],” the source said, adding, “But all they do is tell people to decide on their own what they’ll do and report it to the Central Committee. So people are saying that in the end, this means the Central Committee has no solutions, either.”

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Ha Yoon Ah is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to