This Man No Longer Runs North Korea's Infamous Prisons

Reports say Kim Won Hong, former head of secret police, was demoted
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 3, 2017 11:40 AM CST
Head of North Korea's Infamous Prisons Removed
A man watches a public TV screen showing a file image of North Korea state security minister Kim Won Hong, who had been seen as close to leader Kim Jong Un, at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, Feb. 3, 2017.    (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

The head of North Korea's secret police, a man who reportedly "spearheaded the move" to execute Kim Jong Un's uncle in December 2013, has himself been removed from his key slot—one handed to him by Kim in April 2012. Reuters quotes a rep for South Korea's Unification Ministry as confirming reports that Kim Won Hong is no longer minister of state security as of mid-January. Yonhap quotes sources as saying the 72-year-old was removed after the ruling party's surveillance of his agency turned up alleged corruption and abuse of power. The sources offered no further detail on the charges, but suggested Kim Won Hong's military rank no longer stands at full general.

The Guardian reports North Korea has not confirmed the news, and notes it's not clear whether Kim Won Hong is permanently on the outs or will be subjected to "re-education" in the aim of returning him to the fold. CNN reports the country's infamous prison camps were under Kim Won Hong's purview, and points out that he was one of a handful of top officials sanctioned in January by the US Treasury Department, which didn't mince words: It cited the "beatings, forced starvation, sexual assault, forced abortions, and infanticide" that happened in the camps under his watch. Reuters got famed recent defector Thae Yong Ho to weigh in on the news. "If the demotion ... is really true, then that's another sign of a crack in the North Korean elite group." Thae recently predicted that North Korea could soon have a popular uprising on its hands; here's why. (More North Korea stories.)

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