It's the kind of news story tailor-made for the puns and pokes of Britain's tabloid press, and The Sun, the daily redoubt of topless 'Page 3' girls, doesn't fail to deliver.
The headline says it all: "LOSING MY RELIG-UN Paranoid Kim Jong-un executing record numbers of North Koreans who no longer see him as a living GOD" [sic].
This is one of those cases in which the headline is pretty much the same as the lede, so here that is again in case you missed it:
DELUDED despot Kim Jong-un is executing growing numbers of North Koreans who no longer worship him as a living GOD.
His ruthless regime is persecuting thousands who dare to practise “other religions” within its borders, according to a shock new US government study.
It's not the poetry of a Hearstian scribe in the good old days, but it'll suffice. The "shock new US government study" is a nice touch, although someone should tell the paper that America is the U.S., and not a celebrity-gossip magazine. "Deluded despot" certainly fits the bill, however.
This is not our usual media-bash since even The Sun does "get it" here: there appears to be evidence that the literal cult-of-personality surrounding the Kim family, where the current ruler's father and grandfather were quite literally worshipped by the population or else, is showing some cracks.
A more serious London newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, published a story from which The Sun and rival tabloid the Daily Mail, both appear to have cribbed. As the Telegraph noted, citing the U.S. State Department report:
"An estimated 80,000 to 120,000 political prisoners, some imprisoned for religious reasons, were believed to be held in the political prison camp system in remote areas under horrific conditions", it adds.
Those claims were backed up by a North Korean defector who is now a member of the Seoul-based Worldwide Coalition to Stop Genocide in North Korea.
"Officially sanctioned persecution of people for religious reasons is still there and, I would say, even stronger than before", the defector told The Telegraph.
But subtle changes are slowly becoming visible, said the defector, who declined to be named as he is active in assisting underground churches operating in the North.
Those "subtle changes" are certainly a hopeful sign.
Readers who've studied history -- or lived through the last decades of the 20th century -- will recall that then-Pope John Paul II's 1979 visit to Poland included throngs in Krakow chanting, "We want God, we want God." Those words energized the Solidarity movement and many believed, was a spark that lit the movement to overthrow communism in eastern Europe and the now-former Soviet Union.
Returning to the present and the Telegraph account, I found these words from the unnamed defector of great interest:
"In the past, the people were told to worship the Kim family as their god, but many North Koreans no longer respect Kim Jong-un", he said. "That means they are looking for something else to sustain their faith.
"In some places, that has led to the emergence of shamens, but the Christian church is also growing and deepening its roots there", he said.
"Even though people know they could be sent to prison - or worse - they are still choosing to worship, and that means that more cracks are appearing in the regime and the system", he added.
Cracks in the system are a good thing, especially given the recent nuclear missile brinksmanship between Kim Jong-un and the United States. And while the subject is one where The Sun can at once be dramatic and offer up puns, it's also a story that needs to be followed closely by more major media outlets.
Sixty-nine years after the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, as the north is formally known, was formed, there's a tiny glimmer of hope. How fitting, given its own history of thriving under oppression, that Christian faith may have a role in liberating what is widely known as the "hermit kingdom."
Editors -- especially at globally interested dailies -- get some people on this story, and quickly.