Top North Korean General Executed For ‘Showing Disrespect’ To Kim Jong Un

North Korea's mercurial leader has apparently executed yet another high ranking official.

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North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un has reportedly executed another top government official:

SEOUL, South Korea — The second-highest officer in North Korea’s military was recently executed as a traitor for showing disrespect for the nation’s leader, Kim Jong-un, South Korean intelligence officials told lawmakers here Wednesday.

Gen. Hyon Yong-chol, the minister of the People’s Armed Forces, was believed to have been executed with an antiaircraft gun in Pyongyang, the North’s capital, around April 30, National Intelligence Service officials told South Korean lawmakers during a closed parliamentary session.

Mr. Kim deemed General Hyon disloyal after he dozed off during military events and second-guessed Mr. Kim’s orders, the intelligence officials were quoted as saying by two lawmakers, who attended the session. With hundreds of North Korea’s elite watching, General Hyon was executed on charges of being a traitor, the officials said. General Hyon, who is considered second in the military hierarchy only to Vice Marshal Hwang Pyong-so, has disappeared from North Korea’s state-run news media since late April.

The National Intelligence Service referred any queries from the news media to the two lawmakers, Lee Cheol-woo and Shin Kyoung-min.

Mr. Kim is believed to have been terrorizing North Korea’s elites with executions and purges as he has struggled to establish his authority since the death of his father, Kim Jong-il, in 2011.

It was not clear how the South Korean spy agency acquired information on General Hyon’s supposed execution. Last month, the agency told the parliamentary intelligence committee that North Korea had executed 15 high-ranking government officials this year.

Information the spy agency has provided during closed parliamentary hearings has been considered reliable. But analysts caution that gathering verifiable data on the inner workings of the North’s government is difficult.

When Mr. Kim’s father died, South Korean intelligence officials were not aware of it until Pyongyang announced the news two days later.

Cheong Seong-chang, a senior analyst at the Sejong Institute in South Korea, warned that the spy agency was publicizing “unverified intelligence” on the supposed execution of General Hyon and said that prudent analysts should wait for more solid evidence.

“If he was really executed before other officials in late April, North Korea by now would have erased all his images from old documentary footage being broadcast on the North Korean TV, but that apparently has not happened yet,” Mr. Cheong said.

The spy agency has in the past been accused of leaking shocking news about North Korea to unsettle its government or divert attention from domestic scandals. In recent weeks, the South Korean government has been rocked by the North’s test of a submarine-launched missile and a domestic bribery scandal that led to the resignation of the prime minister.

South Korean officials said North Korea’s leader, believed to be in his early 30s, was resorting to a mix of terror and rewards to thwart any challenge to his leadership. He was believed to have ordered the execution of 68 senior officials from 2012 to last year, according to the South Korean spy agency. The reasons given included failure to follow through with Mr. Kim’s orders or raising questions about his decisions.

The most famous of Kim’s apparent executions of high-ranking officials since coming to power, of course, came in late 2013 when he ordered the execution of Jang Song Thaek, Kim’s uncle. Jang’s execution surprised many observers of Pyongyang because he had been both a close ally of Kim’s father and had served for years as the younger Kim’s right hand man and, according to some estimations, the person who helped the young leader establish credibility with the much older military and party leadership. Jang’s execution was apparently sudden and, at least according to some reports, quite brutal. Most importantly, though, it set off a wave of speculation about what exactly is going on inside the North Korean government that continues to this day. According to some theories, Jang was executed because he was deemed to be too close to China, which has long sought to maintain some degree of control over North Korea. Others speculated that Jang was executed because of rumors that he was involved in a plot by top military leaders to depose Kim. Finally, and perhaps most simply, many argued that the execution was a sign that the younger Kim no longer needed his uncle to guide him or vouch for him with the military and that Kim was seeking to consolidate his power. This last theory is arguably the most plausible given the fact that  Jang’s execution has apparently been followed over the ensuing year by the executions of a number of other high-ranking officials, including all living members of Jang’s family.

If that last theory is correct, then General Hyon’s execution would seem to be yet another step in this process. As with the reports about Kim’s uncle being devoured by dogs, we should take the report that Hyon was killed with anti-aircraft fire with a massive grain of salt. More likely than not, reports like that are released more to scare the North Korean public, and other members of the military, than anything else and, of course, the possibility exists that this is something of a deliberate exaggeration by South Korean intelligence. At the very least, though, it does seem apparent that yet another top member of North Korea’s leadership has been eliminated, and that he will likely be replaced by someone loyal to Kim Jong Un. This could be just another move by Kim to move aside the people who were in charge when he took power, or it could be a sign that he’s not entirely secure in his position. As with everything else dealing with North Korea, that’s a complete mystery. Whatever the answer is, and whatever else it is that might actually be going on in Pyongyang, though, it’s yet another thing to worry about when it comes that country.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    As with everything else dealing with North Korea, that’s a complete mystery.

    One thing that is not a mystery: Kim Jong Un is a few fries short of a happy meal.

  2. James Pearce says:

    Executed? More like “Dismembered by artillery.”

  3. grumpy realist says:

    I really wonder at what point all the generals are going to gang up on Kim Jong Un and have a coup d’etat. Witness the Romans and Nero.

  4. @grumpy realist:

    I really wonder at what point all the generals are going to gang up on Kim Jong Un and have a coup d’etat.

    Ironically, they’re likely suffering from the Two Generals Problem.

  5. Tyrell says:

    Things appear to be spinning out of control in North Korea. At the same time there are reports that they are closer to having nuclear missiles on a sub. Not good.

  6. Pinky says:

    OK, I’ve never done any career counseling for North Korean generals, but if I did, I think I would have stressed the part about not showing disrespect to Kim Jong Un.

  7. michael reynolds says:

    We may have a North Korea crisis on our hands at any moment. The Chinese cannot possibly be happy about this kind of instability paired with improvements in the NK arsenal. Surely they have some human intelligence assets in Pyongyang who can knock the fat kid off his pedestal. They’re being foolish let it get this far and they’ll get burned if they let it go much further. It is way past time to get this done.

  8. Pinky says:

    @michael reynolds: By all accounts, China is terrified of North Korean instability. A crisis or a coup will mean massive numbers of refugees.

  9. CB says:


    Hard to do when disrespect can mean “not clapping loud enough” or “not crying hard enough.” Scary.

  10. Dave D says:

    the possibility exists that this is something of a deliberate exaggeration by South Korean intelligence.

    This seems very plausible if you’ve been following the protest marking the year anniversary of the sinking of Sewol. The bribery scandal is bringing down top government officials and the captain has been sentenced to life in prison. The May Day protests which weren’t really covered in America because Baltimore looked really bad for the ROK government.

  11. michael reynolds says:


    But it’s coming whether they like it or not. Better to push it now than in five years when NK nukes can reach Beijing. The refugees issue would be pretty bad, but proportionally much more manageable than what Jordan and Turkey are dealing with. China can afford it.

    We and the South Koreans and the Chinese need to be holding back door meetings on preparing for the fall of the Kims. China will want security guarantees, no US or SK troops in the north, a gradual reunification and probably some deal to limit the military capabilities of a united Korea.

  12. Pinky says:

    The Norks nuking China? I know it’s tough to predict the actions of the insane, but…

  13. Red says:

    Too bad our President couldn’t do the same thing to the perpetually disrespectful Congressional Republicans.

  14. michael reynolds says:

    I think they’d lash out at whoever they held responsible – us, the southerners, the Chinese.

  15. @Dave D:

    The May Day protests which weren’t really covered in America because Baltimore looked really bad for the ROK government.

    Blaming South Korea for Freddie Gray’s death is an interesting political strategy. 😉

  16. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @michael reynolds: My sense from having lived in SK for 8 years is that what you are asking for from all the parties, while it would be nice, is not obtainable from or by any of the parties under the current conditions. When last I visited the question, the list of nations at best ambivalent, but mostly adverse, to Korean reunification included China, Japan, Russia and, ironically, South Korea itself. Estimates of the cost of economic support during a reunification effort run into the trillions of dollars per year for an undetermined number of years. China is opposed to a unified Korea that has any alignment to the West at all, let alone a military partnership with the US (go ahead and guess at how anxious we really are to leave Korea). The fact that China seems to be dithering on this issue (which opinion I’m not sure I share) may be a sign of how little leverage it has on Jong-un. Wish I had a good suggestion, but my take is that Pinky is closer to realpolitik on this one. NK is already a country where parents send their children to China because, if the children are lucky, maybe they will be able to become orphans, thus getting 2 or 3 meals a day. Multiply that sort of desperation by 10-15 million in the event of a collapse, and go from there.

  17. Pinky says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’rant cracker:

    Wish I had a good suggestion, but my take is that Pinky is closer to realpolitik on this one.

    Nah, that can’t be right. Michael has informed me that I only listen to Fox News and don’t understand the world as well as he does.