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Fake News: Why Reports of North Korean Executions Shouldn't Be Taken As Gospel

Shocking reports have been seen worldwide today concerning the alleged executions of North Korean officials following the “failure” of the much-heralded summit meeting between President Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump.

Fox News reports on the alleged executions.

First appearing in the South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo, these stories were spread like gospel wildfire throughout the mainstream media without any verification or question seemingly being asked. While they may indeed be completely true or true in part, should we be concerned not only about the validity of the stories themselves, but the rabid willingness for the media to reprint news that could quite conceivably be nothing more than propaganda?

The allegations state that Kim Hyok Chol, who laid the groundwork for the summit, was executed by firing squad for being a United States spy alongside four other officials from his ministry. Kim Jong Un’s interpreter Shin Hye Yong was imprisoned for incompetence, failing to make the correct translation of several important speeches.

President Donald J. Trump is greeted by Kim Jong Un, Chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, at the Sofitel Legend Metropole hotel in Hanoi, for their second summit meeting. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

South Korea’s Unification Ministry, the department concerning inter-Korean relations, has declined to comment on the report, and perhaps for good reason considering that Chosun Ilbo is not only virulently anti-Japanese and anti-North Korean but known for printing literal fake news as the willing publisher of regular South Korean intelligence disinformation campaigns.

Chosun Ilbo, August 29, 2013

In 2013, the newspaper printed an allegation from an “unnamed source” in China that 12 people had been executed by firing squad, including Hyon Song Wol, the ex-girlfriend of Kim Jong Un. The reasoning behind the executions was said to Hyon making a sex tape that was then sold and spread into China. Apparently, she was machine-gunned.

The news was repeated throughout western media.

CNBC, August 29, 2013

The problem with this, of course, is that Hyon Song Wol is alive and well and, far from being shamed and out of favour, was elected to the Workers Party’s Central Committee in 2017.

The Telegraph, January 21, 2018

The report on her ascension to the Central Committee came from Chosun Ilbo, the newspaper neglecting to mention they’d announced her dead five years prior.

“That she was able to blatantly refuse China’s demands shows the amount of trust Kim Jong-un has in her.”

Defector quoted in Chosun Ilbo, 2017

The string of phantom executions announced by Chosun Ilbo certainly doesn’t end there, however.

In 2016, it was General Ri Yong-gil who had allegedly been executed on charges of “factionalism, abuse of power and corruption”, the execution claiming to be more “evidence” of a “reign of terror” by Kim Jong Un.

Chosun Ilbo, February 11, 2016

Yet again the news was repeated through the mainstream western media without question.

BBC News, February 10, 2016

Of course, General Ri Yong-gil had not been executed at all. Again, just like Hyon Song Wol, he was quite alive and serving as a member of the Workers Party’s Central Military Commission. In 2018 he returned as the army’s chief of general staff with Reuters saying he was “known for [his] unquestioning support of leader Kim Jong Un”.

The Mirror, May 10, 2016

There is absolutely no independent verification that Kim Hyok Chol and others from his ministry have been executed and it has been clearly proven in the recent past that Chosun Ilbo is an unreliable source through its willingness to publish the results of South Korean intelligence disinformation campaigns without independent fact-checking.

Following the reveal that General Ri Yong-gil was in-fact alive, Chosun Ilbo themselves pointed the finger directly at the intelligence services, stating that they had “ended up with more egg on their face after a series of blunders”.

There is a rabid willingness to print anything that portrays North Korea as a murderous and despotic regime and while many have woken up to the tactics that Western governments and media use against the likes of Iran and Venezuela to foster public support for regime change, the closed and insular nature of North Korea has not allowed a wider spread of truthful insights into the country or the lies are spread about its workings. In matters of geopolitics with the stakes as high as they are on the Korean peninsula, it is not only irresponsible for western media to take these claims as gospel, it is outright dangerous.

“A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on”

Anon Quote (often misattributed to Winston Churchill)



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