If the mainstream media is to be believed, North Korea is a land full of prison camps, zombies and unicorns.
On Friday, the right-wing South Korean Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported that an anonymous source had informed them that Kim Yong Chol, the country’s envoy to the U.S., had been sent to a labor camp over the failure of talks with the Trump administration in Hanoi. Those claims were reported ubiquitously in American media, often without attribution to the original, singular anonymous source. Claims that four other high-ranking officials were either fired, executed or sent to prison camps also circulated widely. Now, media are being forced to walk things back after Kim Yong Chol was spotted with Chairman Kim Jong-un at an art performance.
When asked about the story, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said “We’ve seen the reporting … we’re doing our best to check it out.”
While the other officials who were said to have been disappeared in various ways have not yet been spotted, there is an abundance of reasons to be skeptical of their reported fates.
The walking living
The State Department may also want to worry less about North Korea’s nuclear production and more about its apparent advanced necromancy program, because Kim Hyok-chol is far from the only person executed in the country still walking around and conducting business as usual.
In 2016, a North Korean defector claimed that military officer Ri Yong-gil had been executed and the media regurgitated the claim uncritically, as did South Korean politicians and military brass. Perhaps it was only when he passed over to the other side that he learned the necessary skills that qualified him for a promotion in 2018 to the position of Chief of General Staff.
In 2013, Hyon Song-wol, a famous singer in North Korea, was reported to have been executed by authorities in a “hail of machine gun fire while members of her orchestra looked on.” It appears that the bullets didn’t do any lasting damage to her lungs, however, as she is still singing her heart out with her all-girl pop band.
In 2010, South Korean media reported that a soccer coach had been executed in North Korea. So reporter Jean H. Lee was probably shocked when she “ran into him at the Pyongyang airport.”