Authorities in North Korea are hunting down college students suspected of “spreading rumors” about a recent failed rocket launch amid warnings the reclusive state may stage a nuclear test.
North Korea defied international warnings and fired a long-range rocket on April 13 saying that it would carry a satellite into space, but the rocket crashed into the sea just minutes after takeoff, drawing condemnation from the U.S. and its allies who called the act a "provocative" move.
New leader Kim Jong Un had shrugged off international concerns and pushed ahead with the launch in conjunction with the 100th birthday of his grandfather Kim Il Sung, the deceased founder of the state.
Now, according to students, security personnel at some universities in North Korea are being instructed to take those who talk about the rocket failure into custody.
“The authorities are hunting down students who have spread rumors about the failed launch of the Kwangmyung-sung-3 [satellite] at the Hoeryong Teacher Training College (now renamed Kim Jong Suk Teacher Training College),” said one student from North Hamyong province, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“Security instructors who are in charge of the college gave these orders at the meeting for the leaders and cell secretaries of each department, held on April 21.”
The source said that while authorities had initially informed the North Korean people that the launch had failed through an official television report on April 13, they later interfered with the broadcasting system, preventing relay stations from transmitting the TV signal carrying the message.
But the source added that mainly college students were discussing the failed satellite launch while others paid little attention to the event.
“Since so many events were going on and everybody was busy making a living, people didn’t have time to care about the satellite launch or anything else for that matter,” the student said.
“Only after April 15 did people start to hear about the failed launch of the satellite.”
In the time since, the student said, authorities had been targeting college students to staunch the flow of information about the launch.
Additionally, a secretary of the university’s primary party had informed students during a lecture that the failure of the rocket launch was a groundless rumor and a “conspiracy and stratagem that the enemy is passing around only to damage the reputation of the Republic.”
The secretary also told students that “spies and anti-revolutionaries who are colluding with the outside world are spreading these rumors.”
A source from Chongjin, in North Hamgyong province, said workers at the Kim Chaek Iron Mill were given a lecture on the launch of the Kwangmyung-sung-3, hosted by a high-ranking officer of the General Political Bureau on April 23.
The name of the lecture, the source said, was “As the Proud Top Space Technological Power, Let’s Welcome the Historical Mishap of the National Unification with Pillars of Fire that Will Destroy the Enemy!”
“This lecture was given to servicemen on active duty during a lecture tour arranged by the General Political Bureau of the Ministry of the People's Armed Forces in celebration of the Founding Day of the People’s Army,” the source said.
The lecturer specifically focused on the idea that the launch of the Unha-3 rocket, atop which the satellite was mounted, was meant as a “declaration of war to show North Korea’s missile technology to the enemy.”
He claimed before the audience that “the rocket was flown right in front of the naval base of the U.S. Armed Forces in South Korea as part of Kim Jong Un’s order to strike terror into the enemy’s heart with the Unha-3.”
He said that the lecturer berated what he called the “U.S. aggressors” and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak’s “group of traitors” who he said were “scared out of their wits by our missile technology.”
“[They] are devoting themselves to cowardly suppressions like economic sanctions by using their agents when they can’t even hide their fear of terror, for they can no longer stand against us with their armed forces.”
Some now believe the North could follow up with a third nuclear test as it did after holding a rocket launch in 2009.
U.S. President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda slammed North Korea on Monday speaking at a joint press conference in Washington, and threatened to respond with additional sanctions to further acts of belligerence.
"The old pattern of provocation that then gets attention and somehow insists on the world purchasing good behavior from them, that pattern is broken," Obama said in a joint news conference with Noda at the White House.
Noda warned of a "great possibility" that North Korea would undertake another nuclear test in light of its previous practices and he condemned the rocket launch for undermining diplomacy aimed at containing the North’s nuclear ambitions.
Reported by Sung-hui Moon for RFA’s Korean service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.