This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
A retired North Korean official from Ryanggang Province was arrested earlier this month for his critical comments of Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un, according to RFA sources.
The retired official, who was in his 60s, was once the deputy chairman of the People’s Committee in Hyesan, a city that borders China and is the province’s administrative center.
The arrest reportedly occurred as the retiree was allegedly attempting to defect after discovering he was under investigation.
An official from the province told RFA on Sunday, “The retired official was arrested without warrant on November 3 by the State Security Department on the charge of criticizing the Supreme Leader.”
“He had just retired in October of last year,” the source said, adding, “He had been a very loyal administrative official for quite some time here in Ryanggang. He had a deep understanding of the lives of ordinary people and was very sympathetic to their difficulties.”
The criticism of Kim came after the Supreme Leader’s recent visits to Ryanggang’s Samjiyon County, the site of a major state-sponsored construction project that according to an NK News article consists of more than 400 new buildings.
The Seoul-based North Korean analysis website describes the project as “one of the country’s largest and most highly-promoted,” noting that it was even mentioned in Kim’s 2018 New Year’s Address.
“When the Supreme Leader visited Samjiyon County three times this year to check on the progress of the project, and ordered the country to focus on projects like this, the retired official was disappointed,” the source said. “He felt like [Kim] did not care about the lives of the people.”
Big brother is watching
The source detailed how the retiree was taken in after a betrayal by a friend whom he trusted.
“He told his close friend who works on the accounting team at the State Security Department that [Kim’s] inspection tours were just public relations stunts meant to amplify [the leader’s own] achievements,” the source said.
“However, his friend had a duty to report the ideological tendencies of former government officials to the Department,” said the source. “[After hearing the initial criticism], the retiree’s friend had drinks with him several times, then [documented] and reported his [problematic] comments.”
“Upon learning that he was under investigation by the State Security Department he decided to try to escape the country. That’s when he was arrested,” the source said.
“He was living in the Hyetan area of Hyesan City. State Security officers in civilian clothes took him away quietly in the middle of the night, so most of his neighbors don’t even know he was arrested,” said the source.
Construction takes its toll
Another source, also from Ryanggang Province said, “The Supreme Leader kept visiting the province and kept saying that we would establish Samjiyon as a true home of the revolution by finishing this project before the 75thanniversary of the foundation of the Party in 2020.”
“There hasn’t been any government funding for the project, nor are construction materials provided, so residents here have been complaining about the government’s push [to get this done quickly,] the source added.
“After the visit, Ryanggang’s State Security office was ordered to report on the reactions of both officials and common people. Even powerful officials have been closely watched since then,” the source said.
“I don’t know who else might become the Department’s next victim during the Samjiyon Project’s remaining years,” the source added.
Reported by Hyemin Son of RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.