Gardeners in North Korea face a stiff penalty for failing in an otherwise innocent task of growing flowers. The hermit kingdom will this Wednesday mark the birthday of former leader Kim Jong Il, who was born on February 16, 1942, and died in December 2011.
Every year the streets of the country are flooded with red flowers that have been dubbed "Kimjongailia Begonia" after being used to decorate the body of the late ruler when the local public paid his last respects after his death.
The flowers have since been named after the former ruler, and every year the authorities fill the streets with red flowers, and the public is asked to place flowers on the street as well in memory of the former ruler. But this year, North Korean authorities have encountered an unexpected problem.
The gardeners who were supposed to take care of the"Kimjongailia begonia" did not succeed in their mission and the flowers did not have time to bloom before the birthday to be celebrated this coming Wednesday. The gardeners tried to argue in their defense that they were trying to get a steady supply of firewood to provide the temperature and humidity needed for the flowers growing in the greenhouses, but were unsuccessful.
Pyongyang authorities accused them of "neglecting the plants" and some were sentenced to particularly cruel labor camps for six months.
One of the managers of the "Kimjongailia begonia" greenhouses identified only by his family name Han, who is in his 50s, only last month received an order for a large quantity of flowers to mark the former ruler's birthday. He tried to explain that he could not get enough firewood to properly warm the greenhouses, and therefore could not grow the flowers this year. The authorities rejected his claims and he was sent for half a year of hard labor in a remote labor camp.
Another worker in his greenhouse was also sent to the labor camp for three months because he "did not set the temperature in the greenhouse correctly." Kim Jong Il's birthday is one of the most important holidays in North Korea and every year many ceremonies are held to mark the birthday of the late ruler.