The reported execution of a North Korean official after he reportedly fell asleep at a state function has been called into question. New reports indicate the man may have been purged, but could still be alive.
South Korea's National Intelligence Service (NIS) said on Thursday that it could not confirm reports that North Korea's Defence Minister, Hyon Yong-Chol, had been .
In comments to the AFP news agency, an NIS spokesperson said Hyon had been "purged" but could not verify that he had been executed.
Reports on Wednesday indicated that Hyon had been executed at the end of April for disrespecting North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and for nodding off during an official military event. The initial information was leaked to the press by lawmakers, as is typical, after an NIS closed-door briefing to a parliamentary intelligence committee. After the news broke, NIS appeared to backtrack on the detail of Hyon's public execution.
A number of South Korean lawmakers expressed skepticism about the claims Hyon had been executed. Many cited the fact that very recent television appearances by Hyon in North Korea indicated that it was not likely that he had been killed.
“We've seen Hyun even yesterday on TV," lawmaker Sin Kyoung-min told US broadcaster ABC. "If North Korea really executed their number-two man in charge of defense, they would make sure he disappears on every single program. That's definitely their style.”
North Korean state media has been known to retroactively remove people from archived footage and refrain from mentioning them again if they fall from the favor of Kim's regime.