North Korea purged and executed thousands after Jang Song Thaek was killed?

North Korea may have ordered a sweeping massacre of about 1,000 people after the execution of Jang Song Thaek, claims a defector activist in South Korea.

Kang Chol-hwan, president of the North Korea Strategy Center, said in addition to the mass slaughter a total of 20,000 people were purged under Kim Jong Un, South Korean newspaper Segye Ilbo reported.

“In connection to the case of Jang Song Thaek, 415 cadres in the Korean Workers’ Party, more than 300 people in affiliated organizations, and 200 officers in the state security department were shot to death,” Kang said.

There have been previous reports in South Korea media that Jang’s death sentence in 2013 triggered the executions of other senior officials. But Kang’s assertions on Friday mark the first time an analyst has said the state executed 1,000 people in the case of Jang, who was Kim Jong Un’s uncle-in-law. Relatives were reportedly purged or sent to prison camps because of Jang, the activist said.

Kang said his information was drawn from the testimonies of six North Koreans who recently escaped the country, including statements from former diplomat Thae Yong-ho.

The North Korea Strategy Center, a non-profit organization that seeks to aid defectors with development programs and international support networks, is planning to bring the Jang Song Thaek case before the International Criminal Court in The Hague, South Korean news service Newsis reported.

[UPI]

North Korean leader’s brother Kim Jong-nam killed at Malaysia airport

The half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Kim Jong-nam, has been killed in an attack in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur. Malaysian police say he was waiting at the airport for a flight to Macau on Monday when a woman covered his face with a cloth which burnt his eyes.

Malaysian police official Fadzil Ahmat confirmed that the victim was indeed Kim Jong-nam, as well as adding these details: “While waiting for the flight, a woman came from behind and covered his face with a cloth laced with a liquid. Following this, the man was seen struggling for help and managed to obtain the assistance of a KLIA [Kuala Lumpur International Airport] receptionist as his eyes suffered burns as a result of the liquid. Moments later, he was sent to the Putrajaya Hospital where he was confirmed dead.”

“So far there are no suspects, but we have started investigations and are looking at a few possibilities to get leads,” Fadzil Ahmat told Reuters news agency separately.

The late Kim Jong-il’s eldest son is thought to have fled North Korea after being passed over for the leadership. Kim Jong-nam became one of the North Korean regime’s highest profile critics, openly questioning the Stalinist policies and dynastic succession his grandfather Kim Il-sung began crafting in 1948. Following his father’s death, Kim‘s comments about his younger brother … singled him out as Kim Jong-un most vocal, and high profile, critic.

The results of an autopsy on his body have not yet been released.

[BBC]

The hidden North Korean human rights issue

Excerpts of an interview with Suzanne Scholte, president of the Defense Forum Foundation:

 Q: We are constantly seeing news out of North Korea, that is—for lack of a better phrase—bizarre.

 Scholte: This regime is sadistic and cruel. Just talking about recent events, Chang Sŏng-t’aek, who was Kim Jong Un’s uncle, devoted his entire life to that regime and was successful in helping the regime and then all of a sudden he falls out of favor and is basically publicly humiliated and then brutally killed. It just shows the level of cruelty that this regime represents. I do not believe he was fed to dogs; that report came out of China. … Part of the problem with reporting about North Korea is that we cannot go and see the political prison camps. … So it’s difficult to try to corroborate some of the stories. … One interesting thing about the defectors is that there’s a self-policing among them. They know that they were doubted, and therefore their credibility is always on the line. So they’re very careful, the defectors that I work with, they’re very careful to make sure that if we have a witness that comes over, that they’ve been vetted, and they’re really telling their true story.

Q: Why do you think governments and Western journalists have put so much focus on the nuclear issue and not the human rights threat for the citizens of North Korea?

The policy of George W. Bush was the same as Bill Clinton’s: we have to reach a deal on the nuclear issue first, then, we can talk about human rights. That has been a horrible mistake. During all the talks whether Four Party talks or Six Party talks, millions of North Koreans have died. And, not talking about the human rights atrocities fed into the lie that the North Korean people tell their own citizens, which is we hate them. North Koreans are told by the regime that Americans are Yankee imperialist wolves that occupy South Korea, and they want to destroy them, and so we have to build these nuclear weapons, because the United States is ready to attack us. … We fed into that lie because we didn’t talk about these human rights issues.

The Obama Administration has been very careful to keep the focus on human rights and the nuclear issue and give them equal importance. During this period the North Korean defectors kept telling us, “They will never give up their nuclear weapons. They only use negotiation to extract aid.” Hwang Jang yop (highest ranking North Korean defector and author of juche ideology) said that in 1997 when he defected, “Human rights is their Achilles heel. Human rights is what you have to talk about. They’re killing their own people. They’re using you in these talks. …At least we’ve come to that point now where we realize that.

[Acton Institute]

North Korean defector’s role at London embassy

Besides being the deputy ambassador, North Korea’s number two diplomat in London, Thae Yong Ho, was the man appointed to spy on embassy colleagues and report signs of disloyalty to the feared secret police.

Thae said in an interview that one of his jobs was to report to the “bowibu”, North Korea’s Stasi-like State Security Department, on everyone in the embassy, including the ambassador. But he told his embassy colleagues about the reports and made sure they were positive.

“In the London embassy, I was in charge of this kind of surveillance,” the 54-year-old said.

“I had to write back if they had any ideological changes or if they met any British or South Koreans in secret,” Thae said of his colleagues. “But I always reported good things”.

Thae first came to London as a North Korean diplomat in 2004, when he spent four years as counselor under ambassador Ri Yong Ho, now North Korea’s foreign minister. His two sons went to local London schools, but returned with Thae and his wife to Pyongyang after his first posting there.

In 2013, Thae returned to London with his family, the same year Jang Song Thaek, Kim Jong Un’s powerful uncle by marriage, was executed in a brutal purge that included extended members of Jang’s family and business contacts.

“It was a huge nationwide purge,” Thae said, adding it prompted him to plan an escape. “I had to leave the system”.

[Reuters]

North Korea sacks head of secret police amid signs of ‘crack in elite’

North Korea has dismissed its minister of state security, a key aide to the reclusive state’s young leader, Kim Jong Un, South Korea said on Friday, in what a high-profile defector said would be another sign of a “crack in the elite” in Pyongyang if true.

Kim Won Hong was removed from office as head of the feared “bowibu”, or secret police, in mid-January apparently on charges of corruption, abuse of power and human rights abuses, Jeong Joon-hee, South Korea’s Unification Ministry spokesman, said, confirming media reports.

“There is always a possibility that purges continue as part of constantly strengthening power,” Jeong told a briefing, adding punishment for Kim could be more severe depending on the outcome of the investigation, but he had been dismissed and demoted from the rank of general to major general.

Kim Jong Un became leader in 2011 after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, and his consolidation of power has included purges and executions of top officials.

Thae Yong Ho, North Korea’s former deputy ambassador to London who has defected to the South, told Reuters he was not surprised by the news. “I cannot confirm if the reports are true or not, but this kind of power struggle is quite normal in North Korean history. Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un’s style of control is always one of collective surveillance that checks the power of each organization.

“Kim Jong Un has killed too many high officials and there are a lot of complaints and dissent amongst the high elite because of it. If the demotion of Kim Won Hong is really true, then that’s another sign of a crack in the North Korean elite group.”

[Reuters]

Diplomat: “I’ve known that there was no future for North Korea for a long time”

The decision that North Korean diplomat Thae Yong-ho made to defect from a regime he had spent his whole life defending did not happen overnight. His misgivings had been simmering for two decades, even as he went around Europe espousing the superiority of the North Korean system.  “I’ve known that there was no future for North Korea for a long time,” Thae told The Washington Post.

In the 1990s, as a relatively young diplomat, Thae Yong-ho was posted to Denmark, where his youngest son was born, and after that to Sweden. In Scandinavia, home to the flagbearers of European socialism, Thae’s eyes began to open. “During my first foreign posting in Denmark, I came to doubt and question whether North Korea could say that it was a true socialist or communist system,” he said.  “North Korean society doesn’t have the concept of comparing,” he said. “The more time you spend in the outside world, the disbelief in your system grows more and more.”

During this second stint in London, in the second year of Kim Jong Un’s regime, Thae’s concerns started to become unbearable. “Not only me but other North Korean elites were hopeful that because Kim Jong Un had studied abroad and was young, he might change the policy direction and modernize North Korea,” he said. But his doubts heightened after Kim had his uncle, Jang Song Thaek, executed at the end of 2013. Although executions are not rare in North Korea, there was something disturbingly arbitrary about this one, Thae said.

Still, he continued his duties in London, voicing the idea that North Korea was a “people’s paradise” with free housing, health care and education. But at home, Thae’s youngest son, who was still in high school and hoped to study computer science at a top London university, was asking why North Korea doesn’t allow the Internet, why North Koreans are not allowed to watch foreign films, why North Koreans can’t read any books they want. “As a father, it was hard for me to tell lies, and it started a debate within the family,” Thae said.

Last July, after much preparation and as the end of his posting was approaching, Thae defected with his wife and both their sons.

[Washington Post]

The only way to change North Korea’s destiny is to change its leader

The only way to change North Korea’s destiny is to change its leader, says Thae Yong Ho the most senior North Korean diplomat to defect in almost 20 years.

“As long as Kim Jong Un is in power, there’ll be no chance for the world to improve the human rights issue” or cancel “the nuclear program,” he says.

Thae’s initial hopes that Kim’s youth and overseas studies would make him a reformer were soon destroyed as he saw more and more of his fellow high-ranking officials being executed, almost, he says, on a whim.

“If Kim Jong Un decides to kill someone, if he thinks that he is a threat or he scared him, he just wants to get rid of him, that is the present reality of North Korea,” he says, adding that he knows more elites will defect.

A South Korean think-tank affiliated with the country’s intelligence agency (INSS) assesses at least 340 people have been ordered to be executed since Kim took power in December 2011.

[CNN]

Diplomat defector confirms North Korean Army Chief executed after wiretap

A high-profile North Korean defector has offered support for theories that a former North Korean military chief, missing since 2012, was executed after being wiretapped.

Vice Marshal Ri Yong-ho was chief of the general staff of the North Korean army from 2009 to July 2012, when he was suddenly stripped of his North Korean Worker’s Party duties, ostensibly due to an unspecified “illness.” South Korean and Western media later reported that Ri was likely under house arrest; then that he had been executed.

Thae Yong-ho, a former North Korean diplomat, has told the Yonhap news agency that Ri was executed in 2012 — though there has been no official announcement.

The former army chief Vice Marshal Ri Yong-ho was caught on tape complaining about North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, in particular criticizing Kim’s promises to reform and liberalize the country. Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il, also knew reforms would help the country, but wasn’t able to implement them; the younger Kim was foolish to think he could, Ri is thought to have said, Thae reported.

There appears to be a pattern of executing army chiefs under Kim Jong-un. Though none have been confirmed, the past three army chiefs have been sacked and killed: Ri in 2012; his successor, Hyon Yong-chol, in 2015; and Hyon’s successor, Ri Yong-gil, in February 2016.

None of the executions have been confirmed by the North, however.

[Sputnik]

Where is Kim Jong-un’s wife, Ri Sol-ju?

The wife of Kim Jong-un has not been seen in public for seven months prompting speculation that she is either pregnant or perhaps has fallen out of favor.

Experts monitoring the situation in Pyongyang have suggested Ri Sol-ju, who was introduced as First Lady in 2012, may have fallen out with Kim Jong-un’s younger sister, Kim Yo-jong, who is increasingly regarded as the power behind the throne. Kim Yo-jong was put in charge of North Korea’s Propaganda and Agitation Department last year and is responsible for building up her brother’s cult of personality.

Ri was last seen on a tour of a new commercial district and health complex in Pyongyang on March 28 March of this year, South Korean news agency Yonhap News reported. In contrast Kim Jong-un has frequently been seen touring the country and hosted the country’s first party congress in 36 years in May.

Toshimitsu Shigemura, a professor at Tokyo’s Waseda University who focuses on the Pyongyang leadership, said: “There are several possible reasons, including that she is pregnant or that there is some sort of problem between the two of them. There have also been reports of instability in Pyongyang and rumors of several attempted attacks, including by factions in the North Korean military, against Kim last year. So it is also possible that Ri has not appeared in public because she is being closely guarded.”

In 2012, Ri disappeared from public view, prompting speculation that she had fallen out of favor or was pregnant. It was later revealed that she gave birth to the couple’s first child, a daughter, sometime in late 2012.

On the other hand, Kim Jong-un is not above disposing of those closest to him if they fall out of favor. He executed his uncle, Jang Sung-taek, after finding him guilty of treason despite their relationship being reportedly close beforehand. Announcing the execution, Kim Jong-un denounced him as “human scum worse than a dog” for an alleged attempt to introduce reform.

[The Independent]

North Korea ‘purges’ top official amid spike in high-level defections

North Korea has purged a vice foreign minister, punishing the 72-year-old and his family with farm work, South Korea’s JoongAng Ilbo newspaper said. Vice Minister Kung Sok Ung “took responsibility for the management of the embassies in the European region and was purged.”

The daily reports Kung Sok Ung, 72, and four other ranking officials in charge of European affairs were expelled from Pyongyang on the orders of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. It said Kung oversaw relations with Russia and Europe for nearly 20 years.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye recently said, “While the defections by North Korean elites, as well as regular citizens, are on the rise, the motivations for their defections have become varied, with some fleeing their country with a sense of despair about lack of their own prospects or for their children’s future,” Park said.

Before 2001, nearly 70 percent of those fleeing North Korea cited hunger, but now almost 88 percent cite non-economic reasons such as surveillance and fear, the news agency said.

Among those now fleeing to freedom are significant numbers of senior officials. “Since the execution of Kim’s uncle Jang Song Thaek in 2013, defections by the privileged class have risen due to the North’s leader’s reign of terror,” Yonhap on Sunday quoted Sohn Kwang-joo, who heads the South’s defector resettlement agency, as saying.

On Oct. 5, Japan was said to be handling a request for asylum by a senior North Korean official in Beijing. Tokyo denied the reports, while South Korean media said the official’s final destination was likely to be Seoul.

Pyongyang is reported to have executed more than 100 dissenting state, party and military officials since Kim came to power in late 2011.

[Japan Times]