North Korean Dictator Kim-Jong Un may not have had his uncle, Jang Song Thaek, and five of his closest aides executed by firing squad for crimes against the state as had been widely reported. A new story out of the Singapore Straights Times cites an unconfirmed report out of Wen Wei Po, a Hong-Kong based newspaper believed to be the official media outlet of the Chinese government, that states Thaek and his aides were instead fed alive to a pack of 120 starving hounds. An execution known as “quan jue,” or execution by dogs.
According to the Straights Times, “[…] previous executions of political prisoners which were carried out by firing squads with machine guns, Jang was stripped naked and thrown into a cage, along with his five closest aides. Then 120 hounds, starved for three days, were allowed to prey on them until they were completely eaten up.”
Thaek was once considered the second most powerful man in the North Korea. He was removed from his post and stripped of all power in early December following allegations of treason. The Korean Central News Agency, the North Korean state media outlet, confirmed on December 13 that Thaek and his allies had been found guilty by a Special Military Tribunal of the charges levied against them and had been summarily executed, but did not specify how the executions were carried out.
High profile executions seems to have become a very troubling theme in North Korea the past several months.
South Korean newspaper JoongAng Ilbo reported that on November 3, some 80 plus people were rounded up in North Korea and executed for seemingly trivial offenses such as “watching South Korean films or distributing pornography.”
According to one witness in Wonsan in the Kangwon Province of North Korea, “authorities gathered some 10,000 people, including children, at Shinpoong Stadium, which has a capacity of 30,000 people, and forced them to watch.”
This large-scale execution may be related to the earlier executions of several music performers that were conducted during the summer.
In late August, South Korea’s Chosun Libo confirmed that “[…] singer Hyon Song-wol as well as Mun Kyong-jin, head of the Unhasu Orchestra, were arrested [along with seven other members of the orchestra] on Aug. 17 for violating North Korean laws against pornography and were executed in public three days later.” There are conflicting reports from sources on the exact motive behind these executions. A high-ranking North Korean official that recently defected told Japan’s Asahi Shimbun daily paper that Kim ordered the executions to protect his wife Ri Sol Ju, a former member of the orchestra until June of 2012, from potential negative fallout relating to the scandal. Another source for the Chosun Ilbo claims the executions were motivated for purely political reasons. “Kim Jong-un has been viciously eliminating anyone who he deems a challenge to his authority.”
Unfortunately, digging down to the truth regarding these executions will be difficult, if not impossible to discern, due in part to North Korea’s notoriously secretive nature and isolationist practices. Kim could be using trumped-up charges as a tool by which he can eliminate potential threats to his rule while simultaneously demonstrating his power. A story by Fox News suggests a different theory altogether – that the central government wants to “stamp out public unrest or capitalistic zeal” that followed on the heels of Kim initiating a series of economic development projects. Which, perhaps coincidentally, includes the transformation of Wanson, the aforementioned site for executions used during then November sweep, into a major tourist destination complete with new hotels, an airport and a ski resort. Or, it could be a combination of reasons that prompted the executions. Nobody knows for sure what exactly is going on, save for the fact an alarming number of people in the country are alleged to have been publicly killed.
That is why commentating or postulating on Thaek and his compatriot’s rather over-the-top demise is difficult. A distinction must be made between whether or not someone inside the central government has legitimately claimed the men were executed in “quan jue” fashion, and whether or not such a statement is credible.
To answer that first question, could someone inside the central government of North Korea have made such a claim? Absolutely. The North Korean government has no problem with trying to pass off absurd claims as fact. Did you hear the one about former dictator Kim Jong-il being able to control the weather based on his moods (Kang and Rigoulet, 2005), or that he was walking around and talking to people at just six months of age? His son tossing his uncle and five others to a pack of starving dogs sounds almost tame in comparison to some of the previous claims made by the regime.
Did Thaek truly meet such a grisly end? Doubtful. A more plausible scenario is that Thaek and his men were killed by a more traditional North Korean firing squad, and the tale of the men suffering “quan jue” was concocted and spread by the regime in order to instill a sense of fear regarding Kim with the populace and those that harbored sympathetic feelings for his uncle.
Chol-hwan Kang and Pierre Rigoulot (2005). The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag, Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-01104-7.
Editors Note: This is not a new concept, sadly. Here are some extras provided by Jeb Card.
UPDATE (8-Jan-2014) Reuters has info on the source of this rumor
North Korean execution by dog story likely came from satire | Reuters.
Because of the lack of first hand information, many lurid stories about the country gain credence.
Trevor Powell, a Chicago-based software engineer, who first spotted the link to the Weibo post and reported it on his own blog said that analysts and experts were “still all missing the obvious fact that the original source of the Wen Wei Po story was a tweet from a known satirist or someone posing as him/her.”