North Korea Says Kim Jong Un’s Uncle Has Been Executed

Well, that didn't take long.

Jang Song Removal 2

Just days after publicly acknowledging the rumors about the removal from office of Jang Song-thaek, the uncle of North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un who had been seen by many as a power behind the throne ever since the younger Kim succeeded his father as leader of the DPRK, North Korean media is now reporting that Jang has been executed:

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea announced early Friday it had executed the uncle and one-time mentor of its top leader Kim Jong-un, calling him a traitor.

The announcement, reported by the official Korean Central News Agency, said the uncle, Jang Song-thaek, was put to death on Thursday after a special military trial.

Here’s how Reuters put it:

(Reuters) – North Korea said on Friday Jang Song Thaek, the uncle of leader Kim Jong Un and previously considered the second most powerful man in the secretive state, has been executed after a special military tribunal found him guilty of treason.

“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,” the North’s official KCNA news agency said.

And, finally, the BBC:

The once-powerful uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has been executed after being purged for corruption, state news agency KCNA reports.

Chang Song-thaek was dramatically removed from a Communist Party session by armed guards earlier this week.

He was accused of forming factions against the state, corruption and “depraved” acts such as womanising and drug abuse.

It was the biggest upheaval since Mr Kim succeeded his father two years ago.

KCNA said Mr Chang had been executed immediately after a military trial on Thursday, calling him a “traitor” and accusing him of seeking to overthrow the state.

He had already been stripped of all his official titles and expelled from the party.

Mr Chang was seen as a major power broker in North Korea, and had mentored Mr Kim as he took over the leadership of the secretive, tightly controlled country.

Analysts say his fall from grace could be seen as the latest in a series of carefully calibrated moves to demonstrate Kim Jong-un’s authority and an assertion of his independence.

As news of his purge emerged, South Korean President Park Geun-hye warned the North was “carrying out a reign of terror” to reinforce Mr Kim’s position.

She said the volatile relationship between the two countries was likely to become “more unstable” as a result.

The major news websites in South Korea, Japan, and China don’t seem to have been updated with any news regarding these events as of the moment I’m writing but it will be very interesting to see how these nations in particular react to the news of what can only be characterized as a modern-day Stalinist purge unlike anything we’ve seen in quite some time. It will be most interesting in particular to see what the Chinese government has to say through the news sites that are considered its official news outlets, as well as what the South Korean govenrment has to say given the recent comments of their President.

Quite obviously, Jang was not any more of an innocent man than anyone else affiliated with the Kim regime, but his removal from power and quick execution are clearly part of some kind of wider political move by Kim Jong Un. As I speculated when the initial reports of Jang’s removal came out, the most obvious explanation is that at the root of this is Kim’s desire to remove any possibility of potential rivals for power, which would most obviously have to include Jang given his long relationship with party and military insiders who reportedly had doubts about the much younger Kim’s ability to lead the nation when he first succeeded his father. Additionally, while Kim may have needed Jang’s support in the beginning to solidify his relationship with men much older than he is. Now that he’s been in power for several years, Kim no doubt concluded that he no longer needed Jang for that purpose, and that keeping him around posed the risk of someone challenging him for power in the future. So, he followed the example of his father, grandfather, and of their initial patron Joseph Stalin, and purged and executed him. To the extent that North Korea is often compared to a medieval hereditary kingdom, consider this another chapter in the Pyongyang version of Game Of Thrones.

UPDATE (James Joyner): See “Despicable Human Scum Jang Song Thaek, Traitor for All Ages, Worse Than Dog, Executed With Warmest Paternal Love” for more details.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. DC Loser says:

    Andrei Lankov is always worth a read on all matters North Korean.

  2. Pinky says:

    That was a quick trial. I guess the prosecution had an airtight case and persuaded the jury beyond a reasonable doubt.

  3. @Pinky:

    ‘The glove fit, so they didn’t acquit.

  4. Surreal American says:

    That escalated quickly.

  5. Dave Schuler says:

    I think this supports the “there’s more going on than we’re aware of” theory I suggested in your previous post on the North Korean shakeup.

  6. Ron Beasley says:

    @DC Loser: Thanks DC, that was a good read.

  7. Omg, its incredible…

  8. walt moffett says:

    Don’t think there was any doubt about the outcome, the only question being whether it would be by mortar or Makarov to the back of the head. A cheery thought, what if the new blood are all True Believers in the Juche Idea and Songun?

  9. David in kc says:

    Here’s hoping my nephew is never leader of North Korea.

  10. Grewgills says:

    consider this another chapter in the Pyongyang version of Game Of Thrones

    Then obviously Kim Kyong Hee had the elder Kim assassinated under the assumption that she and her husband would be the defacto leaders of NK.

  11. Tony W says:

    You mentioned Game of Thrones, I thought of “The Tudors”. Classic move, worthy of Henry VIII.

  12. dazedandconfused says:

    I speculated some time ago that if Kim does want to open that country up he has to fear the old guard. They surely worried what their people would probably do to them (and probably their families), if they become fully aware of what the rest of the world is like, is string them up by their nads with piano wire and that might be the most enjoyable part of the process. The old guard would assassinate Kim Jr. in a heart-beat to prevent that.

    He must either off them or do what they want. It’s just that kind of nut house.

  13. jib10 says:

    @DC Loser: Good read.

    A real blast from the past. Like old school Kremlin watching, waiting for the May Day parade so you can see who will be on the main stage in Red Square and where will they be standing.

  14. JohnMcC says:

    Question I’d like answered: Did Uncle Chang have significant connections with anyone in the People’s Republic of China and if so who?

  15. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    The Lankov article was, indeed, a good read–as he always is on this topic. One of the most interesting rumors circulating in the ROK during the past year was that when the new Premier came to power in China, one of his first meetings with NK involved telling the envoy that if Jong-un was not interested in developing a more liberal economic model, that China was willing to consider grooming a new Kim heir to take such a role by whatever means were necessary. Don’t know how seriously to take this rumor, but it had some significant resonnance at the time. The point here being that we may be looking at the first steps toward a significant restructuing in NK.

    Or not. Time will tell. A parallel rumor from the time of the closing of the Gaeseong complex was that the military had pressured the government to close the complex because it was supplanting the military as the most important employer in NK. It will be interesting to watch what progresses here.

  16. SC_Birdflyte says:

    The ongoing drama of leadership in North Korea begs for a Suetonius to write it all down before it vanishes down the memory hole. I also thought of the charming Turkish custom of strangling all unsuccessful candidates and pretenders for the sultanate.

  17. Rob Prather says:


    That you could write such a subdued post on this is admirable. People see Kim Jong Un on ferris wheels, see his smile, and somehow manage to forget the monster that he is.

  18. Oh don’t think I don’t think Kim is a monster.

    But, then again, I’m pretty sure Jang, who has been at the right hand of all three Kims for decades now, is hardly an innocent figure here.

  19. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Texas? You got a lot to learn.

  20. James Pearce says:

    Man, I hope my nephew never becomes a dictator.

    Sooner or later this country is going to crack, right? I mean, they can’t go on like this. What the hey?