Jang Song Thaek, 67, was executed Friday after being tried at a military tribunal Thursday for supposedly trying to overthrow his nephew “by all sorts of intrigues and despicable methods” because he had “a wild ambition to grab the supreme power of our party and state,” according to the official North Korean report. They stressed that “all the crimes committed by the accused were proved in the course of hearing and were admitted by him,” wanting to come across that his trial had been fair.
Many suspect, however, that his execution was a way for his nephew Kim Jong Un to try to prove that he was in total control of the country and to stop doubts that he is too young and inexperienced, as many had thought that Jang Song Thaek had been one of his top advisers and the one who guided him the most through the process of coming into power. “Executing someone with Jang’s pedigree would be a dramatic statement that Kim Jong Un intends to be ruthless in consolidating his control,” said a U.S. official.
His image of being a kindly uncle that only wanted what was best for his nephew was flagrantly denied by North Korean-controlled news, however, instead painting a picture of a man who saw the death of Kim’s father as an opportunity to challenge his position and take power rather than guide Kim smoothly into control. “Jang desperately worked to form a faction within the party by creating illusion about him and winning those weak in faith and flatterers to his side,” they claimed. He was also accused of using drugs, gambling, distributing pornographic pictures, and illegally taking $6.3 million from the state, as well as womanizing, eating at expensive restaurants, and going to a foreign country for medical treatment.
Jang Song Thaek had been vice chairman of the top military body in North Korea and was considered to have the second most prominent position of power after Kim Jong Un. He had been regularly photographed as being beside his nephew, and until this week there had been no signs that there was any disgruntlement between them.
Kim Jong Un had already removed the country’s top general last year, and by executing Jang Song Thaek he showed that he may be consolidating power, which made Victor Cha, a Center for Strategic and International Studies senior advisor, wonder what exactly he could be building power around. “He’s basically attacking the two most important institutions in North Korea, which is the party and the military.” The White House commented that the execution “is another example of the extreme brutality of the North Korean regime.”