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North Korea targets leaks after media frenzy sparked by Kim Jong Un’s absence

Kim Jong Un attending the opening of Sunchon Phosphatic Fertilizer Factory in North Korea on May 1, 2020. (Korean Central News Agency/Released)
May 06, 2020

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

In the wake of a global media frenzy over Kim Jong Un’s health during his recent three-week absence from public view, North Korea has identified “neglect in the day-to-day management“ of his public appearances, and ordered tighter secrecy and stern punishments for information leaks, sources within the country told RFA.

The North Korean leader reappeared publicly last week in seemingly good health, putting to rest rumors and speculation that he was having major health problems following cardiovascular surgery, as well as conjecture among Pyongyang watchers about his potential successor.

In response to the furor, the Korean Workers’ Party’s Central Committee has ordered officials to keep Kim’s schedule and movements a secret.

“They ordered that there should be no information leaks about Number One events,” an official from North Hamgyong province, who requested anonymity to speak freely, told RFA’s Korean Service. Number One events are those attended by the North Korean leader.

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“[The orders] highlighted that there is neglect in the day-to-day management of the event areas, including nearby railway stations, and cases where secrecy about the event has been exposed in advance during preparations,” the source added.

The North Hamgyong source said officials were told that “[Workers’] Party organizations, security departments, and the police must keep strict confidentiality about the events, and perform a thorough selection process for personnel to be mobilized to escort [Kim Jong Un] at the event location,” the source said.

“They also call for thorough safety and security measures to be in place at the location of each event to ensure that the Supreme Leader can be safely attended to at all times,” the source added.

A second source, who also requested anonymity, told RFA authorities are targeting illegal mobile phones with Chinese SIM cards North Koreans living near China use to talk to the outside world.

“In particular, the directive included a stern warning against the leakage of confidential information related to Number One events, especially by the use of illegal mobile phones in the [Chinese] border area,” said the second source, from Ryanggang province.

“Since the beginning of this month, outside media have been citing internal sources as they reported the alleged death of the Supreme Leader, so [the government] seems to have judged that internal information is being leaked to the outside world through illegal phones.”

“Security agencies were told to safely store and handle their weapons, ammunition, explosives and poison, and to keep an eye out for anything unusual,” the second source added.

Unlike his father and predecessor Kim Jong Il, Kim Jong Un is more about his public image. Where Kim Jong Il never made new years addresses for his entire 17-year rule, Kim Jong Un’s televised addresses harken back to the era of his grandfather, the founder of the country Kim Il Sung.

Kim Jong Un’s three week absence seemed out of place for the very public figure. State media outlet KCNA reported on his public activities seven times in March 2019, including observing military tests. The KCNA usually reports on his public appearances between three and five times each month.