The powerful uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has been executed as a “traitor for all ages,” the official news agency reported.
Jang Song Thaek faced a special military tribunal Thursday and was convicted of “anti-party, counter-revolutionary factional acts” in a bid to overthrow the communist country’s leadership, KCNA reported Friday in Pyongyang. The state news agency did not say when or how Jang was killed.
North Korean media reported Monday that Jang had been purged for crimes that included faction-building, corruption, drug use and womanizing. He was considered the country’s most powerful figure after his nephew, Kim Jong Un.
The State Department said it is closely following developments in North Korea.
“While we cannot independently verify this development, we have no reason to doubt the official KCNA report,” said deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf. “If confirmed, this is another example of the extreme brutality of the North Korean regime.”
The move appears to be a sign of insecurity at the very top of the North Korean regime, said Victor Cha, a White House adviser on North Korea to former president George W. Bush.
“To me it means he doesn’t trust anyone in his system, which is not a good sign,” Cha said.
With Jang’s execution and purge of a prominent general last year, Kim, 30, has now purged two of the most influential people in his father’s regime, at the top of the party and the military, Cha said.
Gen. Ri Young Ho, a military leader who appeared in most of the last public photos of Kim’s father before he died, disappeared from the scene in July, 2012. In the past, North Korean leaders have tackled enemies in either the party or the military, but never both, Cha said.
“When you do that it means you have no friends left,” he said. Maybe it’s his youthfulness that he’s brash, but it’s very risky.”
Kim also last August executed his ex girlfriend, Hyon Song Wol, a singer accused of making a sex tape, according to reports.
Jang was known to advocate Chinese-style economic reforms. State TV aired humiliating photographs Monday that showed Jang, considered the country’s second most powerful figure after Kim, being hauled away from a meeting by two uniformed guards
“All the crimes committed by the accused were proved in the course of hearing and were admitted by him,” KCNA said.
Calling Jang “a traitor to the nation for all ages,” the report, written in typically bombastic fashion, said he “did serious harm to the youth movement in our country, being part of the group of renegades and traitors in the field of youth work bribed by enemies.”
Here is an excerpt:
The accused Jang 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. …
It is an elementary obligation of a human being to repay trust with sense of obligation and benevolence with loyalty. However, despicable human scum Jang, who was worse than a dog, perpetrated thrice-cursed acts of treachery in betrayal of such profound trust and warmest paternal love shown by the party and the leader for him. ..
Jang’s execution has “echoes of Stalin,” said Korea expert Daniel Sneider at Stanford University.
“Even by the standards of North Korea’s past, this is a remarkable event,” said Sneider, associate director for research at the Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center. “We haven’t seen such harsh rhetoric and brutal action since the 1950s” purges of Kim’s father, Kim Il Sung.
“It’s truly unprecedented and reflects deep, deep instability and uncertainty about the future … and demonstrates a regime that’s hardly secure,” Sneider said. “It shows that the support of the military is crucial to Kim’s hold on power.”
Bruce Klingner, who headed the CIA’s Korea division for five years until 2001 and is now at the Heritage Foundation, agreed that the humiliating public fashion of Jang’s downfall is a surprise. But what it means is not so easy to interpret in the secretive and hermit-like nation.
“There will be a debate among experts about whether this shows a weak embattled Kim Jong Un desperately fighting off challengers, or if it shows a strong Kim Jong Un taking on his senior leadership,” Klingner said. “I think it’s the latter.”
Kim was weakest when he first assumed office Dec. 17, 2011, Klingner said. Since then, he’s gained additional titles and “with each month” was able to put more of his own people in power, he said.
Klingner says the removal of experienced advisers who might have counseled moderation in North Korean foreign and economic policy means the belligerent nuclear power is unlikely to change its ways toward its Western-oriented neighbors.
“I don’t think this will have an impact the North’s foreign policy,” he said. “Kim Jong Un has shown himself just as resistant to implementing political and economic reform and to moderating North Korea’s belligerent and dangerous foreign policies as his father.”
“If anything,” Klingner said, “things could be more dangerous in the next confrontation.”