After weeks of speculation about his absence, North Korean state media today released images of Kim Jong-Un visiting a housing development and a scientific insitutute.
The images – the first pictures of the leader since 3 September – show him walking with a cane, supporting the theory that he had a leg injury.
The images were still photos, and we cannot know for sure when they were taken. And other experienced North Korea watchers have pointed to evidence that things are changing in North Korea. According to experts, while Kim Jong-Un was absent, the other officials who stepped into the limelight failed to give public tribute to their Supreme Leader.
For example, Hwang Pyong-so, the country’s number two, attended the closing ceremony of the Asia Games in Seoul with suited bodyguards – a security measure usually reserved for the Supreme Leader only. According to former North Korean official Jang Jin-sung this is ‘a blunt and arrogant demonstration of power’.
These subtle signs – and the leader’s absence – sparked speculation that Kim Jong-Un is no longer the man who holds absolute power. Only time will tell.
LABOUR CAMP ADMISSION
Perhaps the biggest surprise during this period is that, for the first time ever, North Korea has admitted the presence of labour camps in its country. A North Korean official described them not as prison camps but as ‘detention centres where people are improved through their mentality and look on their wrongdoings’.
It is assumed that this statement was in response to the highly critical UN human rights report issued earlier this year. It has also been reported that a top North Korean official has visited the European Union HQ and expressed interest in dialogue, ahead of discussions on human rights expected next year.
‘A VERY URGENT TIME FOR PRAYER’
Although there seem to be divisions, that doesn’t mean the North Korean regime is about to crumble. The powerful elite behind Kim Jong-Un still needs him (or someone else of the bloodline) to legitimise their rule.
“For the Christian church, humanly speaking, there won’t be any significant differences anytime soon,” says Simon*, Open Doors’ coordinator for North Korea. “Simon says. However, if nobody holds absolute power any more, this does mean the regime is more vulnerable. Cracks in the power structure may grow wider. “We need to be prepared for every scenario,” he adds. “And we need to pray. This is a very urgent time for prayers.”
That God will change the hearts of the leaders of North Korea
That the labour camps will be dismantled and North Koreans will truly be free
For wisdom for the international community in dealing with North Korea
That despite the difficult circumstances, Open Doors will be able to continue to support the church in North Korea, providing food, literature and training for believers.