North Korea is expected to severely punish two individuals after finding that an explosion at Chongjin Chemical and Textile Factory last year was no simple accident.

A Daily NK source in North Hamgyong Province on Thursday said the government handed two people over to the provincial branch of the Ministry of State Security; the people in question were at the scene of the accident last October. He said the two likely face life sentences.

According to the source, the two persons — who have been blamed for the entire accident — are the head of Chongjin Chemical and Textile Factory’s chemical lab and a researcher in charge. A preliminary examination began on Dec. 30, and the two are currently detained by the provincial Ministry of Social Security’s preliminary examination section.

The provincial ministry plans to complete its preliminary examination and hand the two off for trial by Apr. 15, the birthday of late North Korean leader Kim Il Sung. Given the seriousness of the incident, the two men will likely get life sentences or 15 years of forced labor.

The source said that as of now, they are likely to get life sentences, but if the state shows leniency, they could get just 15 years of forced labor. He said that since they were doing the state’s work when the accident occurred, not their own private business, the punishment they receive depends on how much consideration the state shows during sentencing.

chongjin security
A view of Chongjin. / Image: Daily NK

Meanwhile, the source said it remains unknown just how many people were killed or wounded in the explosion at Chongjin Chemical and Textile Factory since people have been ordered to keep silent about both the accident and resulting casualties.

In particular, the state has asked the families of victims not to tell others about the accident. Officials and workers at the factory are being kept silent by their workplace organizations, while the heads of inminban (people’s units) are hushing up local villages.

The source said the city and factory party committees have been keeping people quiet in an organized way, warning that rumors grow until small accidents become great disasters. Accordingly, local residents cannot talk about the accident even among themselves.

Initially, it appeared four people were killed and 12 wounded. Damage to state property was also significant with much of the factory destroyed.

The source said the factory was still being restored, and that the factory’s party committee stressed that going forward, the entire factory should be informed when chemical experiments are underway, regardless of size, and that those experiments should be conducted in safe conditions free of crowds.

Daily NK reported last November that seven people were injured in an explosion at Chongjin Chemical and Textile Factory in late October, reportedly during an experiment to reduce North Korea’s dependence on imported raw materials and chemical reagents in accordance with the party’s policies of “self reliance.”

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Jong So Yong is one of Daily NK's freelance reporters. Questions about her articles can be directed to