N. Korean security forces shooting each others’ officers, and Jang Song Thaek reportedly removed

Three weeks ago, the Joongang Ilbo reported that North Korea had publicly executed 80 people in seven provincial cities for such “crimes” as Bible possession and watching porn. Norkromancers took note at the time that the Daily NK, with its formidable network of informants inside North Korea, had abstained from corroborating the reports. A new Daily NK report, however, belatedly (sort of) corroborates them now, and the venue for the reported executions has a significance unto itself:

A number of elite officials have been executed for watching South Korean and obscene materials, an inside source from the North Korean capital has reported to Daily NK.

The source from Pyongyang reported on November 28th, “In late October a total of eight people were executed by firing squad at Kim Il Sung Political University.” The eight individuals reportedly include Ministry of Public Security branch heads from both Nampo and Suncheon. According to the source, “I hear they were caught watching South Korean TV programs and videos featuring nude women.”

Hard core pornography is strictly prohibited in South Korea (but not punishable by death, thankfully). If these are “South Korean videos featuring nude women,” they can only be those soft porn videos called yadong they rent out in third-rate love hotels near bus stations. It’s horrible enough to shoot people for watching porn, but it compounds the outrage to shoot people for watching soft porn. But then, if you read that last quote and the next one carefully, you will soon question whether this had anything to do with porn at all.

“Recent surveillance got more serious after the release of a public notice stating that any person caught viewing materials not officially broadcast on TV would face the severest punishment,” the source went on. “Since the investigation is being carried out at the level of the National Security Agency, there’s no mercy, even for cadres.”

The initial Joongang Ilbo report said that the first reported wave of executions occurred in cities “excluding Pyongyang” in early November, but the Daily NK’s report only describes events in Pyongyang itself, a week earlier, for the same alleged “crimes,” and by the same method. The main difference between the reports is that the executions at Kim Il Sung U were apparently carried out more discreetly.

Now that there are some dots to connect, what image do they form? One possibility is that the regime is trying to put a counter-cultural genie back into its bottle. That would lead us to the unsurprising conclusion that a Pyongyang Spring is not upon us quite yet.

A detail in the Daily NK report suggests a more intriguing possibility. Those shot in Pyongyang are said to have included “Ministry of Public Security branch heads from both Nampo and Suncheon.” Yet the investigation was conducted by the competing National Security Agency. It’s traditional in North Korea for these agencies to watch and oversee one another. Does that mean that this is really an internecine purge between two of North Korea’s most feared security forces? Or a reaction to a coup plot? The potential for speculation is boundless, and it only amplifies my curiosity about unconfirmed reports of Jang Song Thaek’s removal (and judging by reporter Chico Harlan’s tweets, even he is skeptical about this one).

If the shootings were politically motived, the same is probably true of the shootings reported by the Joongang Ilbo in November. In that case, the porn allegations could be sheer inventions — simply a conveniently disgraceful charge to pin on someone who isn’t in a position to deny it.

Thanks to the Daily NK for coming through. We eagerly await the investigative report by the AP’s Pyongyang bureau.