Details of the bizarre execution by anti-aircraft fire of a former senior North Korean military official have shocked neighboring South Korea, but have left North Koreans, who are used to such “cruel” executions, undisturbed, sources say.
North Korea executed Defense Minister Hyon Yong Chol last month for acts of disloyalty to leader Kim Jong Un, including falling asleep during a meeting attended by Kim, South Korea’s spy agency told the National Assembly on May 13.
South Korean lawmakers were quoted by Seoul’s Yonhap news agency as saying that Hyon, who was close to Kim and had appeared in state media a day before his execution, was shot at close range by an anti-aircraft gun in a public execution on April 30 watched by hundreds of officials.
Many South Koreans were astonished at the brutality of Hyon’s execution, “but North Korean residents were never concerned at the news that an official had been executed, and took no interest,” a source living in North Korea’s North Hamgyong province told RFA’s Korean Service.
“Central government officials could be executed one by one every day, but this has nothing to do with our lives,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Instead, many would regard these events as a case of ‘good riddance,’” the source said.
At least 15 senior officials are reported by South Korea’s intelligence service to have been executed so far in 2015, including two vice-ministers who had challenged Kim over forestry policy and construction plans, respectively, and four senior members of an elite musical troupe.
Methods 'constantly in use'
Though South Korea “took seriously” the way in which Hyon was put to death, “such methods of execution have been constantly used in North Korea since the time of [founding leader] Kim Il Sung,” a second source said.
Public executions in North Korea are common, with the methods used in some cases too gruesome to describe, the source said.
“Even students have been forced to watch,” he said.
North Korean authorities have meanwhile stepped up efforts to combat corruption and inefficiency in government departments, as well as in North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party, sources say.
“Kim Jong Un has ordered organizations such as the Workers’ Party and North Korea’s Security Department to thoroughly investigate officials,” a source living in the border area between North Korea and China said.
To explain the failure of government policies to improve North Korean people’s lives, Kim is now accusing officials of schemes that “drive a wedge between North Korean authorities and the people,” sources say.
Poorly compensated officials who rise to high rank will always look for ways to earn more money, though, “and there is no one who will not take a bribe,” a North Korean defector living in South Korea said.
“It seems to be hard to break the vicious cycle of corruption,” he said.
Reported by Jieun Kim and Young Jung for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Yunju Kim. Written in English by Richard Finney.