October 17, 2014 12:51
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's 40-day absence sent the rumor mill into overdrive. Around a dozen different stories were bandied about in the local and global press, ranging from Kim being pronounced brain dead to his having been overthrown in a coup and Pyongyang in lockdown.
Many of those rumors were started by North Korean defectors in interviews with newspapers or TV, claiming that they either heard them from a source back in the North or that such a scenario was highly likely.
Some defectors still refuse to believe photos released by the North's state media showing Kim visiting a newly built housing complex and said they must have been doctored. They claimed the photo was taken on Sept. 3, the last time Kim was seen in public, but a government official here said there was "little chance" of that, pointing out that the statues of nation founder Kim Il-sung and former leader Kim Jong-il that appear in the background had only been completed on Oct. 6.
North Korean defectors are mostly responsible for flying helium balloons with anti-North Korean propaganda across the border. They contain facts about the hereditary transfer of power in the North, but they also include wild rumors and scandal-mongering about Kim Jong-un and his wife Ri Sol-ju, for example that Ri had an affair with former eminence grise Jang Song-taek, who was executed late last year, or that Kim Jong-un is really in love with singer Hyun Song-wol.
A total of 27,400 North Korean defectors now live in South Korea. They have played significant roles in informing the outside world about what is going on inside the reclusive country, and they also led efforts to help other North Koreans who are being oppressed by the Kim dynasty. Their passion touched the hearts of many South Koreans and made them realize the need for reunification.
But they should be careful with their speculation. Fueling the rumor mill is doing their cause no favors. Some defectors who are often interviewed in the press here left the North more than 20 years ago, and it may now be a totally different place from the one they knew.
Spreading incorrect information about North Korea sows nothing but confusion among South Koreans. Many defectors are concerned about that themselves, rightly worried that the comments of a handful of their compatriots could end up damaging the credibility of all defectors.
By Hwang Dae-jin from the Chosun Ilbo's News Desk
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