Jang Song-thaek, previously one of the country’s most powerful men, accused of plotting to overthrow state.
North Korea has executed Kim Jong-un’s uncle as a “traitor for all ages” who confessed to planning a coup, state media has announced.
Jang Song-thaek, previously one of the country’s most powerful men, was accused of everything from plotting to overthrow the state to instigating disastrous currency reforms and dishing out pornography in the report from official news agency KCNA.
It denounced him as “worse than a dog” and “despicable human scum”.
KCNA said a special military tribunal had found him guilty of treason and the Rodong Sinmun newspaper carried a photograph of him handcuffed and held by uniformed guards in the courtroom.
North Korea announced earlier this week that Jang, thought to be in his late 60s, had been stripped of all posts and expelled from the Workers’ party for offences including factionalism, corruption and dissolute behaviour. But many had thought his marriage to the youthful leader’s aunt – the sister of late leader Kim Jong-il – was likely to save his life.
In Pyongyang, people crowded around subway station billboards displaying the morning paper and news of the execution, Associated Press reported. Others sat quietly and listened as a radio broadcast broadcast into the subway listed Jang’s crimes.
The lengthy, bombastic and at times downright bizarre report from KCNA quoted an alleged admission by Jang that he sought to destabilise the country, triggering discontent among the military and others. He planned to become premier if North Korea approached collapse and use illicitly acquired wealth to ensure that “the people and service personnel will shout ‘hurrah’ for me” and his coup would succeed smoothly”.
It also claimed he pursued a “decadent capitalist lifestyle” – squandering at least €4.6m in 2009 alone, including in a foreign casino – and deliberately hampered construction projects in Pyongyang.
He sold off natural resources “at random” and committed treachery by selling off land at the Rason special economic zone for five decades, it added, apparently in reference to a deal with Russia.
“They are using this opportunity to scapegoat Uncle Jang by relegating responsibility for all policy failures,” said Leonid Petrov of the Australian National University.
Other offences cited include halfhearted applause as Kim rose to power and Jang’s “reckless” instruction to security forces to erect a granite block with Kim’s signature in a shaded corner rather than in front of their headquarters.
Brian Myers, an expert on ideology at Dongseo University in Busan, noted that the denigration of Jang held potential perils for the leadership. It raised questions about his ability to cause so much damage for so long and sat uneasily with North Korea’s use of collective punishment.
“This is a member of the clan in a culture where the regime tends to punish entire families for crimes committed by one of them. So it seems odd to be so explicit about [his] crimes,” Myers said.
KCNA said Jang had long held a “dirty political ambition” but dared not act while Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il were alive.
“He began revealing his true colours, thinking that it was just the time for him to realise his wild ambition in the period of historic turn when the generation of the revolution was replaced,” it added.
That was when Jang – who had been purged twice before – returned to the forefront of North Korean politics. Kim Jong-il appeared to have selected him as a mentor figure who could help smooth Kim Jong-un’s path to power.
Adam Cathcart, an expert on North Korea, said accusations of factionalism and seeking power were “pro forma” in such cases, but he noted how specific the charges were and added: “There certainly were discussions about the direction North Korea would take [when Kim Jong-il died]. It would be natural for Jang to want to be part of a collective leadership system.
“But North Korea is not moving towards a collective system: it’s all about the one leader … It’s the divine right of Kims.”
Myers added: “The most surprising and unprecedented thing is not that someone was planning to overthrow the state … but the implication that he had a substantial number of followers. That’s the first ever official admission of significant disunity in the North Korean state itself.”
Kim has made sweeping changes to the hierarchy in North Korea, changing key military personnel repeatedly as well as removing civilian members, but family members are normally dealt with more leniently and quietly. It is unclear how the position of Jang’s wife Kim Kyong Hui – also seen as something of a mentor for Kim following her brother’s death – has been affected.
Nor is it clear whether Kim himself initiated his uncle’s ousting or whether other parts of the elite were behind Jang’s fall. While some analysts predict increased instability in the North, as those associated with Jang are removed, others argue that Kim has consolidated his position effectively.
Patrick Ventrell, White House National Security Council spokesman, said: “If confirmed, this is another example of the extreme brutality of the regime.”
The KCNA report raises further questions about the development of North’s economic and foreign policy, alleging Jang believed that after his coup his “reformist” reputation would encourage foreign countries to recognise him quickly.
Cathcart noted: “Kim has been very lucky in the external environment and I think he will continue to be. For all the bile [the North has] directed at South Korea, Japan and the US and even China, none of those countries are interested in grabbing this hornets’ nest and shaking it right now.”