It’s no shock to most leftists that the United States has been running a smear campaign against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea since even before the Korean War. From insane allegations of Kim Jong-Un claiming that he never has to use the bathroom to defectors being paid by the US and South Korean governments to exaggerate and even completely fabricate their stories about leaving the country, there really isn’t a single thing that the west won’t accuse the DPRK of doing if it makes the socialist country look bad. Often playing the “totalitarian” card, there have been a multitude of news stories and false testimonies telling of mass executions or people even being killed simply for watching a movie made in the United States.
These claims of people being executed left and right are more often that not blatant falsehoods that are easily proven to be wrong. News stories about these supposed executions are commonly published with no legitimate primary sources, usually citing “an anonymous source” or only having information from defector claims, tabloid magazines, and the Korean CIA. Sometimes western sources even take pieces from satire and parody sites and push them as factual. By looking at a handful of news stories that claim someone was murdered by the DPRK for little to no reason that turned out to be false, the hope is that maybe these examples of news outlets publishing blatantly false stories will help provide a little more nuance in how people should approach western so-called information about the DPRK.
Starting off we have a claim from 2013. Published in the conservative South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo, the story goes that Marshal Kim Jong-Un ordered to have his alleged ex-girlfriend and patriotic pop singer Hyon Song-Wol, members of the Unhasu Orchestra, along with members of the Wangjaesan Light Music Band, executed by firing squad. According to this article, Hyon Song-Wol and orchestra leader Mun Kyong-Jin were arrested for releasing a sex tape, or some other action that would be in violation of the DPRK’s anti-pornography policies. In true anti-DPRK tabloid fashion, Chosun Ilbo claimed that all of the involved parties were gunned down with machine guns in front of their fellow musicians and family members and then the family members of those who were executed were themselves thrown into prison. This story would go on to circulate uncritically throughout western outlets.
The only citation found in this article comes from “sources in China.” What sources? There’s no actual news article or report from an actual organization claiming knowledge of the DPRK or any form of concrete documentation to prove that this claim is real. Even if Chosun Ilbo cited an actual document the validity of this claim would still be up in the air considering the anti-communist character of this newspaper. Plus Chosun Ilbo is generally considered by many an unreliable source in on the DPRK in general.
This claim of a mass execution of course turned out to be a massive lie. In May of 2014, around 8-9 months after Hyon Song-Wol was claimed to be killed by firing squad, she resurfaced on DPRK TV. Appearing at the 9th National Convention of Artists in Pyongyang, Hyon proved to be alive and well, effectively dispelling the rumors of her death.
Kim Kyong Hui
According to a defector from the DPRK referred to only as “Mr. Park,” as cited in a 2015 CNN article, Kim Jong-Un carried out orders to have his aunt Kim Kyong Hui executed in 2014 in response to her “angrily complaining” about her husband Jang Song Thaek being executed for counter-revolutionary activity in 2013. Mr. Park here claims that Kim Kyong Hui was poisoned by Kim Jong-Un, this is after several other baseless claims were made regarding her whereabouts. Prior claims include that she had been in a vegetative state after undergoing brain surgery, that she committed suicide, she had a stroke, or she had a heart attack.
But, as expected, this all turned out to be as some may call it, fake news. A 2020 article by Alan Macleod for MintPress News highlighted that Kim Kyong Hui was spotted on North Korean Television enjoying the Lunar New Year festivities in the DPRK with her nephew. This woman would’ve been dead for 6 years at the time of this article’s publication. Unless the physicians and other similar personnel have access to technology reminiscent to that of Victor Frankenstein, it’s hard to believe that this woman would be resurrected after over half a decade of being dead. This article also touches briefly upon a couple other examples of supposed executions being carried out in the DPRK turning out to be nothing more than fabrications.
Moving on we have an execution allegation that finally doesn’t involve a member of Kim Jong-Un’s family. According to an article from the BBC, citing only the vague institution of “South Korean media,” army chief of staff Ri Yong-Gil was executed in early 2016 for charges of corruption and “factional conspiracy.” By now we should understand that if the source of western article is a “source in South Korea” or a “source in China,” or even in some cases they just use the term “anonymous source,” then it’s most likely that the story is a farce. The kicker in this BBC article is that right at the beginning of this piece, the report from “South Korean media” that they cite even claims to be unconfirmed. This unconfirmed claim would of course turn out to be a fib.
In May of 2016 as reported in a CNN article, Ri Yong-Gil turned up alive and well at a Workers Party Congress. How can a dead man appear at a party congress 3-4 months after he was apparently executed by the state? A newspaper in the DPRK even confirmed his being alive by listing him as a member of the Central Committee’s Politburo. In fact, Yong-Gil was the recipient of a promotion from deputy Army Chief of Staff to the official Chief of Staff in 2018. Are you starting to notice a pattern here? Let’s cover a few more just to really hammer down how idiotic these claims that have been made against the DPRK are.
Kim Hyok-Chol/Kim Yong-Chol
The Daily Mail is a tabloid that very rarely if ever publishes something that’s actually worth reading. So it should be no shock to anyone that a media outlet built on misleading headlines and misinformation would use Chosun Ilbo, a media outlet built on misleading headlines and misinformation, as the source for one of their sensationalist articles. The Daily Mail claimed in a 2019 article that after the debacle that was the summit in Hanoi, Vietnam with then president Donald Trump, Kim Jong-Un ordered special envoy to the US Kim Hyok-Chol to be executed by firing squad and to have several other officials involved placed under arrest and placed in a prison camp. Is there any sort of truth to this story? Not at all.
As it was later revealed, Kim Hyok-Chol was never put to death. In fact, only about a week after this story was initially released the Korean Central News Agency reported that Hyok-Chol had very recently attended a concert with Kim Jong-Un. The two of them were even photographed sitting near each other during the concert. Western sources say that he was still subjected to some odd form of self-criticizing punishment but just like these accusations of political murder those claims are completely unfounded.
And as a little bonus in this story, Kim Yong-Chol, a general and member of the Central Committee who was also involved in the Hanoi summit was reported to have been purged from the Workers Party and sentenced to hard labor. But guess what? That didn’t turn out to be true either. Kim Yong-Chol was shown to be attending an artistic performance that was also attended by Kim Jong-Un only two days after these claims of being purged had surfaced. This isn’t a false accusation of death, but this is still a prime example of how western media is designed to demonize the DPRK by any means.
No particular individual is named in this claim, but this one in particular is of extreme absurdity. In 2019 The Daily Star released an article claiming that an unnamed military general in the DPRK was executed in a way that was taken from a James Bond film from the 1970s. Apparently Kim Jong-Un killed one of his generals by having their chest cut open and throwing them into a tank full of piranhas. The Daily Star also included that people have apparently been fed alive to tigers and blasted with flamethrowers among other methods of execution. Even beyond the claims of this James Bond scenario, the article says that piranhas can rip the flesh of off something in a matter of minutes which has been proven to be an urban legends. There was even an episode of the populat show “Mythbusters” about this. Thankfully though this story was met with ridicule and sarcasm by a significant number of people.
Wrapping this up with the biggest one of the last couple of years, the claim that the man himself, Kim Jong-Un, was dead. In April of 2020, reports started coming out from outlets such as the always credible TMZ that the DPRK leader had died. TMZ cited a social media post made by an unnamed woman who worked as the vice director of a Hong-Kong based news program claiming Kim Jong-Un was dead. This post on Weibo of course didn’t have any legitimate citations, simply referring to a “very credible source” as confirmation. Pieces from NED-funded institutions such as Daily NK would likewise parrot claims of Kim’s death. There’s even an article published by the Anadolu Agency in Turkey where someone who defected from the DPRK in 2006 had been “informed” that Kim Jong-Un had died. The problem with this though is that Ji Seong-ho, the defector in question who would go on to hold a minor political office in South Korea, did not disclose in any way what source was telling them that Kim had died. Even Donald Trump acknowledged that claims of his death were unconfirmed and that they shouldn’t be taken at face value.
Of course as we all know now, the leader of socialist Korea was never dead and is still alive and well to this day. South Korean officials would confirm that just because Kim hadn’t been seen all that much at the time of these rumors, that does not mean that he is dead. Ultimately this rumor, like many others surrounding the DPRK, are the product of a mass global media campaign from the capitalist world to demonize and destabilize countries that don’t want to blindly play along with the USA’s interests. Any attempts at holding onto autonomy and sovereignty are met with NGOs such as the National Endowment for Democracy funneling money into pro-western, anti-communist media outlets in attempts to manufacture consent for illegal regime change. Ben Norton has a great article on the anti-DPRK media cycle and how it applies to other countries published by The Grayzone.
None of this is to say that there have never been executions or that there aren’t issues within the DPRK that need to be addressed. Those issues, however, should be addressed by the people of Korea and should not in any way be decided by western powers. That being said, there’s a pattern of disinformation here that everybody needs to be aware of. Western powers and media are consistently spreading lies about the DPRK among other places including Venezuela and China as a means of trying to build popular support for political and economic attacks as a means of instigating regime change. The US wants to create puppet governments and they will do try to do that in whatever way they see necessary.
Have people been executed in North Korea? Yes that can’t be denied. But plenty of people in the United States have been executed via both legal and extralegal means. And in the DPRK, there are so many instances of stories claiming someone was executed turning out to be a baseless fabrication with lackluster sources, if any sources are even mentioned. It is implored that people look at these patterns of lies, and try to see outside of the Western bubble.
Yong-hyun, Ahn. “Kim Jong-Un's Ex-Girlfriend 'Shot By Firing Squad'.” The Chosun Ilbo (English Edition): Daily News from Korea - North Korea, August 29, 2013. http://english.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2013/08/29/2013082901412.html.
O'Carroll, Chad. “North Korean Singer ‘Executed by Firing Squad’ Shows up Alive and Well in Pyongyang.” NK News, May 16, 2014. https://www.nknews.org/2014/05/north-korean-singer-that-was-executed-by-firing-squad-shows-up-alive-and-well/.
Hancocks, Paula. “North Korean Leader Ordered Aunt to Be Poisoned, Defector Says.” CNN, May 12, 2015. https://www.cnn.com/2015/05/11/asia/north-korea-kim-aunt-poisoned/.
Macleod, Alan. “North Korea: Kim Jong-Un's Aunt Appears Alive after Six Years of Media Saying He Killed Her.” MintPress News, January 27, 2020. https://www.mintpressnews.com/north-korea-kim-kyong-hui-appears-alive-after-six-years-media-coverage/264364/.
“North Korea 'Executes' Army Chief of Staff Ri Yong-Gil.” BBC News, February 10, 2016. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-35543364.
Pearson, Michael. “North Korean General, Reported Executed, Turns up at Party Congress.” CNN, May 10, 2016. https://www.cnn.com/2016/05/10/asia/north-korea-army-chief-ri-yong-gil-alive/.
“Previously 'Executed' North Korean Official Promoted to Military Chief.” Sputnik International, June 4, 2018. https://sputniknews.com/20180604/Executed-Korean-Promoted-Chief-1065095830.html.
Ibbetson, Ross. “Kim Jong-Un Executes His Man in America: Special Envoy to Us Is Killed by Firing Squad.” Daily Mail Online, May 31, 2019. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7088941/N-Koreas-Kim-Jong-Un-carrying-purge-Hanoi-summit-collapse-Chosun-Ilbo.html.
“Fake News? 'Executed' North Korean Seems to Resurface Alive, Another Shows up at Concert.” RT International, June 4, 2019. https://www.rt.com/news/461089-north-korea-official-alive/.
Carey, Jim. “Kim Yong-Chol: North Korea Lies on Repeat in Western Media.” Geopolitics Alert, June 5, 2019. https://web.archive.org/web/20210815013652/https://geopoliticsalert.com/kim-yong-chol-north-korea-lies.
Ward, John. “Kim Jong-Un Executes General by Throwing Him in Piranha-Filled Fish Tank.” Dailystar.co.uk, June 9, 2019. https://www.dailystar.co.uk/news/world-news/kim-jong-un-execute-general-17210070.
“How Far Is Too Far? UK Tabloids Mocked for Claiming Kim Fed General to Piranhas.” RT International, June 10, 2019. https://www.rt.com/news/461473-kim-piranhas-execution-tabloid/.
“N. Korea Dictator Kim Jong-Un Reportedly Dead After Botched Heart Surgery.” TMZ, April 25, 2020. https://www.tmz.com/2020/04/25/north-korea-dictator-kim-jong-un-dead-dies-heart-surgery-reports/.
Alam, Sorvar. “N.Korea Defector Claims '99%' Sure Kim Jong-Un's Dead.” Anadolu Ajansı, May 1, 2020. https://www.aa.com.tr/en/asia-pacific/nkorea-defector-claims-99-sure-kim-jong-uns-dead/1825795.
“Kim Jong-Un Is 'Alive and Well,' Top South Korean Security Advisor Says.” SBS News. Special Broadcasting Service Australia, April 27, 2020. https://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/kim-jong-un-is-alive-and-well-top-south-korean-security-advisor-says/fp5tgajnv.
Norton, Ben. “Anatomy of a Fake News Campaign: Media Spreads Lie from US Govt-Funded Korean Outlet That Kim Jong-Un Died.” The Grayzone, May 4, 2020. https://thegrayzone.com/2020/05/04/fake-news-ned-north-korea-kim-dead/.
Jymee C is an aspiring Marxist historian and teacher with a BA in history from Utica College, hoping to begin working towards his Master's degree in the near future. He's been studying Marxism-Leninism for the past five years and uses his knowledge and understanding of theory to strengthen and expand his historical analyses. His primary interests regarding Marxism-Leninism and history include the Soviet Union, China, the DPRK, and the various struggles throughout US history among other subjects. He is currently conducting research for a book on the Korean War and US-DPRK relations. In addition, he is a 3rd Degree black belt in karate and runs the YouTube channel "Jymee" where he releases videos regarding history, theory, self-defense, and the occasional jump into comedy https://www.youtube.com/c/Jymee