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North Korea Executes Leader’s Uncle

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The Debate

North Korea Executes Leader’s Uncle

North Korea has announced that Jang Song Thaek was tried on Thursday and executed for plotting to seize power.

The uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un was tried in a military tribunal on Thursday and summarily executed according to reports from Pyongyang’s state media.

An article appearing on the official Korean Central News Agency on Thursday announced that Jang Song Thaek, the uncle of current leader Kim Jong-Un, had been tried in a special military tribunal of the DPRK Ministry of State Security on Thursday. According to an English translation of the article provided by NK News, Jang was accused of being a traitor for all ages. More specifically, the state accused Jang of having:

“brought together undesirable forces and formed a faction as the boss of a modern day factional group for a long time and thus committed such hideous crime as attempting to overthrow the state by all sorts of intrigues and despicable methods with a wild ambition to grab the supreme power of our party and state.”

The article said all of these crimes had been proven against Jang and the accused had admitted to them. The court reportedly handed down a death sentence and Jang was summarily executed for the crimes. In characteristically bombastic language, the KCNA report said that “Every sentence of the decision served as sledge-hammer blow brought down by our angry service personnel and people on the head of Jang, an anti-party, counter-revolutionary factional element and despicable political careerist and trickster.”

It went on to detail how Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong-Il and Kim Jong-Un had all placed enormous trust in Jang, who abused this trust by secretly plotting to seize power. Following Kim Jong-Il’s death in December 2012, Jang allegedly “began revealing his true colors, thinking that it was just the time for him to realize his wild ambition in the period of historic turn when the generation of the revolution was replaced.” To that end he allegedly sought to prevent Kim Jong-Un from consolidating his power over the DPRK in hopes that Jang himself might become the absolute leader of North Korea.

The report goes on to claim that when Jang’s plot failed and Kim Jong-Un successfully inherited power, Jang was “so arrogantly and insolently as [to be] unwillingly” to stand up “from his seat and [only] half-heartedly clapping, touching off towering resentment of our service personnel and people.”

Jang’s trial and execution comes just days after North Korea officially announced that Jang had been stripped of his titles and removed from his positions for secretly plotting to seize power from Kim Jong-Un.

As The Diplomat noted earlier today, with Jang’s purge and execution, “Kim Jong-Un effectively signals his unwillingness to tolerate any alternate locus of power.” The execution also underscores the seriousness of the defection of Jang’s fund manager who fled to South Korea with several important documents and other information about the internal state of the Kim regime. Additionally, Jang’s execution is sure to send a strong message to China which valued Jang as an important and pragmatic interlocutor. North Korea’s Ambassador to China, Ji Jae-Ryong, was a close associate of Jang’s and may soon be purged himself. 

According to WantChinaTimes, based on reports by Seoul’s North Korea Strategy Information Service, Kim Jong-Un’s older brother (the second oldest current-generation Kim) arrested Jang Song-Thaek. Lee Yun-Keol of the aforementioned agency stated that “in fact, even Vice Marshal Choe Ryong-hae would not dare to carry out the arrest. Kim Jong-un’s own second oldest brother Kim Jong-chul ordered the guards to complete the arrest in the end.” If true, the reports could indicate that Kim Jong-Un could be planning on expanding his older brother’s role in the North Korean regime. Kim Jong-Nam, the oldest Kim brother — who gained infamy by squandering his chances at the North Korean leadership by trying to sneak into Tokyo Disneyland with a fake passport — might also be a future candidate for a purge according to certain reports.