- On Monday night, the South Korean newspaper The Daily NK reported that North Korean Dictator Kim Jong Un has been absent from major national events after undergoing heart surgery on April 12.
- Later, both CNN and Bloomberg news cited United States government officials who said that Kim is in “grave danger” and had taken “a turn for the worse,” respectively.
- South Korean and Chinese officials have been doubtful about such reports, saying that they have not seen anything out of the ordinary from North Korea.
- Still, U.S. National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said the White House is following these reports “very closely.”
Kim Reported To Be in Poor Condition
The White House says it’s looking “very closely” into reports that North Korean Dictator Kim Jong Un is in critical condition following an alleged heart surgery, but South Korea says it doesn’t believe those reports are true.
“We’re monitoring these reports very closely, and as you know North Korea is a very closed society,” National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said on Fox and Friends Tuesday morning. “There is not a free press there, they are parsimonious with the information they provide on many things, including the health of Kim Jong Un, so we’re monitoring those developments closely.”
Currently, nothing is truly known about Kim’s condition. The speculation around his status began Monday night when the South Korean newspaper The Daily NK reported that Kim Jong Un underwent heart surgery on April 12th.
When it was first published, that article said multiple sources from inside North Korea had told the outlet that Kim had received that surgery. The paper’s sources went on to say that Kim has been suffering from inflammation of blood vessels involving the heart since last August and that the surgery was likely due to a number of factors, including obesity, smoking habits, and overwork.
Later, The Daily NK later issued a correction saying that this article was based on a single source, but still, the questions around Kim’s health persisted.
That’s for a few reasons. First, on April 12, the same day as his reported surgery, North Korean state media reported that Kim had visited an airbase and observed drills by fighter planes. Notably, that’s nothing out of the ordinary for the dictator.
On April 14, however, state media did not mention Kim as having attended a weapons test, even though he normally supervises those events. Then, the next day on April 15, North Korea observed its most important national holiday: The Day of the Sun.
That holiday, which is comparable in scale to Christmas in the United States, commemorates the birthday of Kim’s grandfather, Kim Il-sung, who founded North Korea.
Again, state media did not mention whether Kim had attended that ceremony. It also didn’t publish any pictures of him there, even though it did publish photos of other top leaders.
All of that is extremely odd because Kim has never missed that event before.
More Media Outlets Pick Up the Story
After The Daily NK, more news outlets picked up the story Monday night, including CNN, which reported that the United States was monitoring intelligence that Kim is now in “grave danger” following his surgery.
Notably, that’s according to a U.S. official “with direct knowledge.”
CNN also said that a second source familiar with the intelligence told them the U.S. has been closely monitoring reports on Kim’s health. According to a third source, concerns about Kim’s health are “credible but the severity is hard to assess.”
In addition to that, Bloomberg News reported that a U.S. official said Kim had taken a turn for the worse after his surgery.
Later in the night, MSNBC anchor Katy Tur tweeted, “North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is brain dead, according to two US officials. He recently had cardiac surgery and slipped into a coma, according to one US current and one former US official.
If true, Tur had just tweeted massive news that raised multiple questions about the reclusive country’s relationship with other nations, as well as questions about who would succeed Kim.
It turns out, however, that Tur’s claim may not be as confirmed as she originally thought.
“I’ve deleted that last tweet out of an abundance of caution,” she later tweeted. “Waiting on more info. Apologies.”
South Korea and China Doubtful of Reports of Kim
South Korean officials have also said that they’ve seen nothing that indicated Kim was in poor condition.
“No unusual signs have been identified inside North Korea,” presidential spokesman Kang Min-seok told the Yonhap News Agency. There is nothing we can confirm with regard to Chairman Kim’s alleged health problem.”
Another anonymous government official told Yonhap, “There is nothing unusual going on in North Korea. It’s not true.”
That official also said that Kim appears to be acting “normally.”
Reuters has also reported that South Korean and Chinese officials are doubtful of reports that Kim is in critical condition.
Speaking to BuzzFeed News, North Korea expert Andray Abrahamian from George Mason University in South Korea said, “The Daily NK report that started this is underground, single source reporting from within the most opaque country in the world. That isn’t useless but also faces limitations.”
“Then CNN went with a dramatic headline and anonymous sourcing from the United States that was also very vague but made it seem as if there was more credible information than there probably is,” Abrahamian added. “Then the world’s media is compelled to write something lest they be missing out on a major story.”
If, in fact, something is wrong with Kim and he ultimately ends up dying, it’s very likely that information wouldn’t be known until North Korea decides to tell the world. When his father Kim Jong-il died in 2011, even South Korea didn’t know about it until days later when the North Korean state media announced it.
Apple and Google Remove Navalny Voting App as Russian Elections Kick-Off
The decisions from Apple and Google, which followed weeks of pressure from the Kremlin, mark a continuation in the war between Western tech companies and authoritarian governments.
Voting App Removed From App Stores
Apple and Google removed a tactical voting app designed by allies of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny from their app stores Friday, bowing to pressure from the Kremlin the same day voting began for the country’s parliamentary elections.
The Smart Voting app aimed to direct opposition voters in each of the country’s 225 districts to select whichever candidate was most likely to defeat competitors from President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party.
Removal of the app comes as part of the Kremlin’s broader crackdown on the work and allies of Navalny, who was given a prison sentence of two and a half years in February for violating parole for a previous conviction widely believed to be politically motivated.
Russian authorities banned the app in June when the government outlawed Navalny’s movement as an extremist organization.
For weeks, the Russian censorship agency, Roskomnadzor, threatened to fine Apple and Google if they did not remove the app, arguing it was illegal and accusing the two of election interference.
People familiar with the matter told reporters that the tech companies complied with the request after Russian officials threatened to prosecute their employees based in the country.
Response and Backlash
Kremlin authorities welcomed the companies’ decision, which they painted as necessary legal compliance.
“They have met the lawful demands,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Friday. “This application is prohibited in the territory of our country. Both platforms received relevant notices and it seems they have made the decision consistent with the letter and the spirit of the law.”
Navalny’s allies and digital rights activists condemned Google and Apple for kowtowing to the demands of an authoritarian regime.
“Removing the Navalny app from stores is a shameful act of political censorship,” Ivan Zhdanov, a Navalny aide wrote on Twitter. “Russia’s authoritarian government and propaganda will be thrilled.”
Natalia Krapiva, a digital rights attorney with the Internet freedom group Access Now, told reporters that while it was clear Apple and Google “took this decision under pressure,” the tech companies still “owe the Russian people an explanation.”
Friday’s removals, she argued, have little precedent.
“This is really a new phenomenon to go after the app stores,” Krapiva noted.
Broader Crackdowns on Tech Companies
The move marks a continued escalation in the battle between authoritarian governments and American tech companies fighting to keep their services accessible.
In Russia, Twitter, Facebook, and TikTok have faced throttling and fines in recent weeks for failing to remove calls for protests and other posts expressing dissent that the Kremlin claims are illegal.
In countries like India, Myanmar, and Turkey, authorities have increasingly pressured companies to censor political speech. Last year, Turkey passed a law that gives authorities more power to regulate social media companies.
The Indian government is also currently in a standoff with Twitter over accusations the company has failed to comply with new internet regulations that experts say limit online speech and privacy.
Now, experts worry Google and Apple’s decision to remove Navalny’s app could encourage Russia and other authoritarian regimes to pressure tech companies by threatening to prosecute their employees.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (The Associated Press)
Denmark Moves To Bar Life Prisoners From Starting New Romantic Relationships After Peter Madsen Controversy
While behind bars, the convicted murderer pursued relationships with female admirers, including a 17-year-old girl and a 39-year-old Russian artist who he married in 2020.
Denmark’s government proposed a draft law this week aimed at preventing prison inmates serving life sentences from forming new romantic relationships behind bars.
If passed, the proposed bill would specifically limit correspondence and visitation rights during the first 10 years of detention to people the prisoner knew before incarceration. It would also ban prisoners from sharing details about their criminal activities on social media or on podcasts.
Demands for such legislation stemmed from public frustration over Danish inventor Peter Madsen, a 49-year-old who was convicted in 2018 for the 2017 murder of Swedish journalist Kim Wall. According to prosecutors, Madsen sexually assaulted Wall while she was on board his submarine for an interview. He then dismembered her body before the submarine sank in what police said might have been an attempt to destroy evidence.
While incarcerated, Madsen reportedly pursued relationships with female admirers, including a 17-year-old girl named Cammilla Kürstein. Kürstein has admitted that she fell in love with Madsen after exchanging letters and talking on the phone with him over the course of two years.
However, she became jealous in 2020 when he ultimately married 39-year-old Jenny Curpen, a Russian artist living in self-imposed exile in Finland. Curpen has said her communication and visits with Madsen also began in 2018.
What Comes Next?
While Madsen has earned particular heat for pursuing new romance behind bars, he is far from the only incarcerated person to do so.
“We have seen distasteful examples in recent years of prisoners who have committed vile crimes contacting young people in order to gain their sympathy and attention,” Justice Minister Nick Hækkerup said when speaking of the bill.
“This must obviously be stopped,” he continued, arguing that jail should not serve as “dating centres or media platforms to brag about crimes.”
Denmark’s right-wing opposition in parliament has already signaled support for the bill, which was sent to the committee stage on Wednesday. If approved, it is expected to go into effect in January of next year.
Still, human rights experts said they expect challenges to the law. For example, Elo Rytter, of the University of Copenhagen, told the BT newspaper that it would “interfere with prisoners’ right to a private life.” She also said outlawing public statements might “raise questions about censorship.”
See what others are saying:(The Guardian)(The Washington Post)(BBC)
World Anti-Doping Agency Will Review Cannabis Ban Following Sha’Carri Richardson’s Suspension
Any changes that stem from the review will not take effect until 2023.
Cannabis Ban for Athletes Under Review
The World Anti-Doping Agency announced Tuesday that it will review whether cannabis should stay on its list of prohibited substances.
The move comes three months after the agency’s policies notably prevented U.S. sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson from competing at the Tokyo Olympics.
In July, Richardson was given a 30 days suspension and stripped of her 100-meter win at the U.S. Olympics Trials when THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, was detected in her system. At the time, Richardson admitted that she used marijuana in Oregon, where it is legal, after learning that her biological mother had died.
The runner was ultimately met with an outpouring of support from people who argued that the drug is not a performance enhancer and is legal or decriminalized in multiple U.S. states, as well as in countries around the world.
The anti-doping agency did not specifically mention Richardson in its announcement, but it did say the plan is a response to “requests from a number of stakeholders” in international athletics.
It also said that cannabis will remain banned in 2022, and any changes that stem from the review will not take effect until the following year.