North Korean diplomats undergo ideological examination after ambassador’s defection

North Korean consulate in Dandong, China. Image: Daily NK

The North Korean government has recalled diplomats and their families living abroad after it was reported that the acting North Korean ambassador in Italy, Jo Song Gil, had disappeared. The North Korean state is now conducting intense ideological examinations of its diplomats and their families, according to sources in the country’s capital.

“On February 7, the Ministry of State Security (MSS) was ordered to conduct comprehensive ideological examinations of diplomats and their families who returned to North Korea,” said a North Korean source in Pyongyang on March 22. “The examination was ordered to be conducted by the MSS from February 11 and last for a period of three months.”

The diplomats and their families are in complete isolation and receiving intensive ideological education from the MSS and other state agencies, according to the source.

The North Korean authorities ordered the MSS’s Political Department on February 7 to “conduct a comprehensive ideological examination of Ministry of Foreign Affairs diplomats and their families who returned home following the incident involving Jo Song Gil, the acting ambassador to Italy.”

The order involved the participation of the MSS Political Department, Organization and Guidance Department (OGD), Propaganda and Agitation Department, and the Overseas Anti-Espionage Department, along with the Central Party’s OGD and Propaganda and Agitation Department in conducting the examination of the diplomats and their families.

According to a separate source in Pyongyang, the order included four guidelines for the examination. The first states the date on which the examination would take place: “An examination by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of diplomats and their families stationed overseas who have returned home after the incident involving Jo Song Gil, would begin on February 11, 2019.”

The second guideline describes the method by which the examination would take place: “The ideological examination will take place by having each individual write down the time, date and day of significant events from the start of their time in other countries like China and Russia. This process will be repeated several times.”

The third guideline concerns the location of the examination: “The MSS will be in charge of conducting the examination of the diplomats and their families. The examination will take place at the MSS dormitories located in Potonggang District’s Hwanggumbul Station, and the participants will be completely isolated from outside contact.”

The fourth guideline involves the period in which the examination will take place: “The examination will commence on February 11, 2019, and will last for a period of three months. The daily schedule will be planned and executed collectively by the Central Party OGD and the MSS OGD.” This suggests that the examination will last until early May.

South Korea’s TV Chosun reported in late January this year, citing a North Korean source, that the North Korean authorities had ordered the children of diplomats living abroad to return home to prevent further defections. The authorities are not permitting diplomats to live abroad with their children anymore, which has led to wide condemnation of Jo Song Gil and discontent toward the new rule, according to the source.