Earlier this week, a number of outlets reported claims, allegedly made to South Korean lawmakers by the country’s intelligence agency, that North Korea had executed its top defense official with anti-aircraft guns in part because he had fallen asleep at a meeting. As has occurred a number of times previously after sensational North Korean execution stories, though, this claim has been undermined by subsequent reporting. From the New York Times:
Analysts in South Korea … questioned the authenticity of the report and the spy agency’s motive in releasing it. Among other things, they said, General Hyon, the North Korean People’s Armed Forces minister, was still shown alongside North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, in old propaganda films broadcast this week. In the past, one of the first things the government did about people who had been purged was to remove their images or names from official records.
The Guardian writes that South Korean intelligence is sticking to the claim that Hyon was purged, but not that he was killed (or that he was killed by superfluously powerful weapons).
The grim details of Hyon’s demise dominated headlines but the NIS on Thursday stressed that his execution had not been confirmed.
“Hyon has been purged,” an NIS spokesman told AFP.
“And there are intelligence reports that he might have been executed, but this has not yet been verified.”
The rumor that North Korea carries out executions with anti-aircraft guns is not a new one. This Washington Post article from May 1 says an activist group’s analysis of satellite photos “appears” to show such an event:
The activist group’s own report, though, only asserts that the photos show “some sort of targets” and that the “most plausible explanation” of the image is that those targets are people being executed—which, in the absence of any other information on the event, seems quite speculative.