In 2016, BBC journalist Rupert Wingfield-Hayes was expelled from North Korea for “distorting facts and realities” in his report of the visit to a children's hospital and for "speaking ill of the system" and the leadership of the country. His harrowing journey is captured in the SBS documentary Inside North Korea.
But he may have gotten off easy.
According to a report by South Korean think tank The Institute for National Security Strategy, 340 people (including high-ranking officials and his own family members) have been executed since Kim Jong-un took power in 2011 for reasons including “nodding off” at meetings. In 2013, Amnesty International claimed up to 200,000 North Koreans were being held in prison camps.
Here are some of the more bizarre rumours about the lengths to which the dictator is reportedly willing to go to preserve his rule...
Kim Jong-nam was killed by a cloud of nerve gas
Kim Jong-un’s estranged older half-brother Kim Jong-nam was murdered in full view in February this year on the shopping concourse at Kuala Lumpur’s airport. After a woman sprayed a chemical cloud in the man's face, he collapsed and died en route to hospital.
Malaysian authorities say they found traces of quick-acting VX nerve gas on his face, classified by the UN as a weapon or mass destruction and more poisonous than sarin. One of the alleged assassins (thought to be North Korean Operatives), Siti Aisyah claimed she thought she was taking part in a prank and that she and an accomplice had been duped.
North Korea has denied any involvement, but the government asked that the corpse be repatriated before an autopsy could be performed. There was also an attempted break-in at the morgue holding Kim Jong-nam’s body.
Jang Song-thaek may have been fed to starving dogs
Jang, the Leader’s uncle was executed in 2013 for charges of treason and according to a defector, because he had objections to Kim’s plans to build a ski resort and water park. He was seen as regent to the supreme leader and had lobbied for Kim Jong-nam to be his father Kim-Jong-il’s successor.
In one grisly account, Jang and five of his aides were stripped naked and fed to 120 starving dogs as hundreds of officials looked on. North Korean officials didn't state how he was killed, though two Jang aides were torn apart with anti-aircraft machine gun fire. According to The Independent, Kim commended the execution in his New Year message as a dispatch of “factionalist filth”.
Jang's wife, Kim Kyong-hui, was poisoned
According to a North Korean defector, Kim Jong-un’s aunt Kim Kyong-hui, sister to his father Kim Jong-il, was murdered by poison for protesting her husband Jang Song-thaek’s execution. In fact, all direct members of Jang’s family are thought to have been executed.
The deputy minister of public security was burnt alive
According to South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo, O Sang-hon a Jang Song-taek loyalist, was burnt at the stake in December, 2014 with a flame-thrower. He was accused of helping Jang turn the public security ministry into a personal security detail for his business interests.
The army vice minister was killed by a mortar round
Kim Chol was killed in 2012 for allegedly “drinking and carousing” during the official mourning period of Kim Jong-il. South Korean media reported that he was “obliterated” via mortar round with Kim Jong-un ordering that “no trace of him” be left behind “down to his hair".
The defence chief: anti-aircraft weaponry
According to Seoul's National Intelligence Service, Hyon Yong Chol was executed by ZPU-4 anti-aircraft weaponry with multi-pronged guns at close range in 2012 for being insubordinate and showing disrespect by falling sleep during meetings.
An unnamed manager of terrapin farm was shot
Daily NK reported that Kim, upon visiting a terrapin farm in 2015, became angered after finding out all the baby terrapins had died due to some tanks not being adequately supplied with food and water. He called officials’ explanation of electrical, water and equipment problems “nonsensical complaints” and had the manager executed after his visit “to set an example".
Watch Inside North Korea right here: