Rare images highlight Pyongyang power broker’s fall from grace

AFP-JIJI

Extraordinary images showing the disgraced uncle of North Korea’s leader being dragged away by uniformed guards testify to the ruthlessness of Kim Jong Un’s rule, analysts say.

It is the first time since the late 1970s that such humiliating pictures of a purged official have been made public, said Yang Moo-jin, of Seoul’s University of North Korean Studies.

“The publication of such images is aimed at showcasing to the world that the purge is being led by Kim Jong Un himself,” Yang said.

The secretive authoritarian state early Monday confirmed that Jang Song Thaek, vice chairman of the country’s top body and once seen as the power behind the throne, has been stripped of all official titles and membership of the ruling party for corruption, womanizing and factionalism among other crimes.

It was the biggest political upheaval since the death of former ruler Kim Jong Il in December 2011 and his son’s takeover.

Later in the day state media released photos of the party politburo meeting Sunday that officially decided Jang’s fate.

Two images were released of Jang being pulled out of his seat in an auditorium by two uniformed officers.

One showed the bespectacled and gray-haired Jang being pulled upright, as dozens of other stony-faced officials looked on.

Another showed the 67-year-old, clad in a dark suit and looking downward, being pulled into the aisle by his arms.

Other images released by state media showed Kim, wearing glasses and appearing nonchalant, sitting on a podium with other top party officials, including the ceremonial head of state, Kim Yong Nam, and Choe Ryong Hae, Kim’s close confidant who holds the military rank of vice marshal.

It is not certain whether the two photos of Jang — noticeably blurrier than other images of the party meeting — were taken at the same time as the other shots.

There was some speculation in Seoul that the photos of Jang may have been taken before Sunday’s meeting.

But the mere fact that they were released was seen as unprecedented, as was the lengthy report by the North’s official news agency listing Jang’s alleged crimes in detail.

“It is the first time that the North has listed personal accusations against a certain official in such great detail,” said one official at South Korea’s Unification Ministry, who declined to be named.

“We see it as very unusual . . . extremely rare even through the entire eras of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il combined,” said the official, referring to the current leader’s grandfather — the nation’s founding president — and his father.

The Kim dynasty has ruled the isolated state since its founding in 1948 with an iron fist and a pervasive personality cult.

Jang, married to the powerful sister of Kim Jong Il, played a key role in cementing Kim Jong Un’s rule since he took over.

But analysts say his increasing influence and political power appear to have been resented by the young leader.