North Korea

Suicide spike in North Korea prompts Kim Jong Un to issue prevention order


Disclosure of suicide notes criticizing country shocks officials, source tells RFA

Suicide spike in North Korea prompts Kim Jong Un to issue prevention order

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has issued a secret order defining suicide as an “act of treason against socialism,” sources say.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has issued a secret order for local authorities to prevent suicides after data showed an increase in people taking their own lives this year, government officials told Radio Free Asia.

Though RFA was not able to confirm North Korea’s tally, the South Korean National Intelligence Service reported at the end of May that suicides were up about 40% compared to last year.

“There are a lot of internal unrest factors in North Korea due to the hardships of people,” the spy agency said, adding that violent crimes are also on the rise as people struggle to make ends meet.

Kim officially defined suicide as an “act of treason against socialism,” and ordered local governments to take preventative measures.

The confidential suicide prevention order was delivered in emergency meetings in each province of the party committee leaders at the provincial, city and county levels, an official from the northeastern province of North Hamgyong told RFA’s Korean Service on condition of anonymity for security reasons. 

Our meeting was held at the provincial party committee’s building located in Pohang district, in the city of Chongjin,” he said. “The large number of suicide cases in the province was revealed and some officials … could not hide their anxious expressions.”

Criticism of social system

Statistics delivered at the North Hamgyong meeting showed that there were 35 suicide cases this year in Chongjin and nearby Kyongsong county alone, the official said, adding that most of the cases involved whole families ending their lives together.

“[The attendees] were shocked by the disclosure of suicide notes that criticized the country and the social system,” he said.  

At the meeting in Ryanggang province, the attendees were told that suicide has had a greater social impact than starvation, an official there told RFA on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.

“Despite the suicide prevention policy ratified by the General Secretary, the officials were not able to come up with an appropriate solution,” he said. “Most of the suicides were caused by severe poverty and starvation, so no one can come up with a countermeasure right now.”

The meeting described several shocking cases in detail, according to the official.

“In the city of Hyesan, a 10-year-old boy was living with his grandmother after his parents died of starvation, but they took their own lives by eating rat poison,” he said. “It brought great sadness to all who saw it.”

The official described other shocking cases revealed at the meeting, including a couple in their 60s who hung themselves from a tree in the mountains, and a family of four who, after eating their final family meal together, ingested potassium cyanide, a highly toxic chemical often used in gold mining.

“Family suicide is a final act of defiance against a hopeless system,” he said.

Kim Jong Un’s order emphasized that the local government officials must take responsibility for prefenting suicides in their jurisdictions.

“It was emphasized that the responsible officials will be held jointly accountable, because ‘suicide is a clear social challenge and treason against the country.”

Translated by Claire Shinyoung Oh Lee. Edited by Eugene Whong and Malcolm Foster.

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