On the heels of a report by South Korea’s
National Intelligence Service [NIS] on May 13th that North Korea’s minister of
the People’s Armed Forces (MPAF), Hyon Yong Chol, had been executed for
disloyalty, Daily NK’s sources within the country reported reference to Hyon’s
execution during a political lecture for military officers stationed along the
Sino-North Korea border, held at the beginning of this month.
“The lecture, delivered by political
department officers of the highest-ranking military unit, referred to Hyon as ‘an autocratic warlord who refused orders from the Supreme Leader
(Kim Jong Un),’” a source in South Pyongan Province told Daily NK on May 14th.
“The Party cadres conducting the lecture compared the recent event to the ‘anti-party,
anti-revolution Kim Chang Bong incident’ of 40 years ago.”
The “Kim Chang Bong incident” refers to Kim
Il Sung’s orders for the purge and subsequent execution of Kim Chang Bong, the
minister of National Security (now known as the Ministry of the People’s Armed
Forces), who, despite his background as a fellow fighter in Kim Il Sung’s
anti-Japan guerilla movement, was executed in 1968 for opposing the North
Korea’s singular state ideology and embodying anti-party/counter-revolutionary
elements. Scores of others met with the same fate, including Ho Bang Hak, the
then-chief of the Division for Southern Intelligence.
No specifics about the execution method or
the details of Hyon Yong Chol’s crime were broached during the lecture,
according to the source, who said the core message revolved around
reiterating that “the military must unconditionally adhere to the monolithic
leadership,” and elaborated that the lecturer condemned Hyon as a dogmatic warlord,
warning all attending the meeting to take every precaution to thwart any and all signs of internal
As one might expect, ideological sessions to deter
“anti-party and anti-revolutionary” factions are soon expected to follow. “It
seems that ideology tests of cadres will follow soon, given that the head of
MPAF was executed for refusing mandates from the Supreme Leader,” he predicted.
“The incident marks the execution of the highest-ranking official since Jang
Song Thaek, meaning that nobody knows what else this situation could
portend; military officials in particular are exercising extreme caution.”
News of this incident as a link in a
broader chain of executions pouring out of Pyongyang has tensions running
rampant within the military. “Personnel are unable to conceal their fears after
catching wind of Hyon’s execution, saying, ‘I don’t know what’s going on; it
seems that status as a high-ranking official is meaningless these days,”
according to the source.
Party cadres “hearts pump wildly,” as the
source put it, when summoned for daily tasks by higher levels of command; he
added that many in the central ranks of command worry most about their
susceptibility of becoming proverbial “shrimp among whales,” an analogy common
in both Koreas to describe the unfortunate position of being caught in power
struggles between two superpowers.
“They say that they’d likely be better off
just living as ordinary members of society and laying as low as possible,” he
A different source in Yangkang Province
close to the military stated, “Word of Hyon Yong Chol being executed in front of
military personnel by an anti-aircraft gun made its way to high-ranking
officials 10 days ago.” She confirmed that Hyon was branded a “warlord,” and executed for his insubordination to the Highest Dignity (Kim
Jong Un), doing things on his own terms, and dozing off at a meeting.
The source in South Pyongan Province
touched on reactions among soldiers regarding the event, saying, “Younger
soldiers learned about Party’s struggles against anti-revolutionaries of four
decades ago, such as Kim Chang Bong and Ho Bong Hak–but only in history
“None of them thought that something
similar could take place in a contemporary context; they find the whole thing
very unsettling, worrying about what this could lead to do in their country,”
he pointed out.
Hyon’s tumble from the higher echelons of
power and subsequent demise have been frequent topics of conversation among
ordinary residents packed within the passenger cars of trains [a situation
offering more opportunities to speak without alerting surveillance]. The source,
reflecting these sentiments, said, “They say, ‘What’s the use of becoming a
Party cadre? It’s best to just make good money outside of politics to avoid
incidents like that.”
The incident has evoked a stronger response
from senior citizens, who see the recent execution as an ominous harbinger,
comparing the entire string of executions to those carried out during the later
part of the Chosun Dynasty.
Daily NK inquired as to why any references
to and depictions of Hyon have yet to be removed from historical films and
documents–a symbolic, customary practice in North Korea regarding purged
officials. “In the case that they delete all reference to him after his
execution, everyone outside of the country would be able to confirm the purge;
that’s why they haven’t deleted him yet,” he explained.
He drew a parallel to Ri Yong Ho, the former
Chosun People’s Army chief-of-staff, as strongly influencing this course of
action, or rather, inaction. “After Ri Yong Ho was purged he was promptly
removed from all media content, unleashing a torrent of negative public
response across the international community and prompting North Korea to let
the dust settle a bit before doing the same this time,” the source concluded.
*The content of this article was broadcast to the North Korean people via Unification Media Group [UMG].