On May 8th, Rodong Sinmun revealed that Ri Kyong-Sim, a 22 year-old traffic policewoman from Pyongyang’s People’s Security Department, was named a ‘Hero of the Republic’. The story was publicized in South Korean media and internationally by AFP news agency, who suggested that “she might have intervened in an incident that had threatened the life of leader Kim Jong-Un”.
But according to our North Korea correspondents and sources in Pyongyang, Ri Kyong-Sim received the award for putting out a fire that broke out near a propaganda poster.
One New Focus correspondent in North Korea told us, “A fire broke out opposite the cross-roads traffic-post where Ri Kyong-Sim was on duty. When the propaganda poster with Kim Jong Un’s name caught on fire, Ri went to put it out.” He continued, “The action had already been recognized at various Party speeches. This latest award is being conferred at Kim Jong Un’s explicit orders.”
It appears that Ri Kyong-Sim’s bravery was singled out in this way by Kim Jong Un – under the pretext of having “saved the executive of the revolution” – because it occurred during the Grade 1 War-Readiness State.
While the Grade 1 War-Readiness State remains in force, stepped-up efforts to protect icons and statues depicting the Kims have not been relaxed. The suggestion that Ri Kyong-Sim thwarted an assassination attempt on Kim Jong Un’s life likely arose due to a misinterpretation of the term ‘executive of the revolution’ as referring directly to Kim Jong Un’s person.
According to North Korean defector Kim Ji-ho*, “The North Korean regime must feel insecure about the growing sense of dissatisfaction among the North Korean people. Ri Kyong-Sim’s award appears to be an attempt to redirect public perception towards support of Kim Jong Un.”
Significantly, this is not the first time that North Korea has conferred the title of ‘Hero of the Republic’ to a citizen who has saved a Kim icon or portrait from flooding or fire. Unusually, no reason for the award has been offered on this latest occasion.
North Korean defector Park Ji-chul* offered a suggestion for this anomaly: “Information flow across the Sino-North Korean border is much freer than it was a few years ago. Perhaps the North Korean state has chosen to remain silent on why it has conferred its latest title of ‘Hero of the Republic’ because it realizes how silly this would look on the international stage.”