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Kim Jong Un’s late uncle was “worse than a dog,” according to the blustery state media account of his purge. But was he killed by a pack of half-starved dogs?
That’s the claim of Beijing-linked Hong Kong newspaper, Wen Wei Po, which on Dec. 12 reported that the instead of being executed by a firing squad, as is typical, Jang was stripped naked, thrown in a cage with five of his associates, and devoured by 120 hounds as Kim Jong Un and 300 officials watched. The dogs preyed on the prisoners “until they were completely eaten up,” according to the Straits Times, a Singaporean newspaper, who picked up the story on Dec. 24.
The version of events jibes well with media accounts that portray Kim Jong Un as a Dr. Evil-esque figure, a clownish, brutal young despot that finds amusement in wielding his terrible power. It also seems to fit the blustery language of North Korean state media which so memorably denounced Jang as a “despicable political careerist and trickster” guilty of “thrice-cursed acts of treachery.”
It feels possible that such an over-the-top crime would warrant an over-the-top punishment. But there is reason to be skeptical.
First, there is the reporting itself. North Korea’s stubborn isolation makes it nearly impossible for reporters to independently verify this type of claim. Very few foreign reporters have access to the country and those who do, like the Associated Press, are kept on a tight leash. It is striking that Wen Wei Po was the only Chinese media outlet with the story. China’s powers of information control are not perfect, but the arms of its propaganda machine tend to wave in synch.
Plus, the account does not fit with other reporting on Jang’s ouster. Around the same time the Straits Times ran with the Wen Wei Po piece, the New York Times, citing South Korean intelligence, reported that some of Jang’s associates were executed using antiaircraft guns while Jang himself was killed “by more traditional means.”
The method, in the end, may not matter so much. Nobody would argue in favor of death by dog, death by mortar fire, or, really, any other type of execution under Kim family’s grim authoritarian rule. But the focus on palace politics, rumors and intrigue seems to be calling attention away from what we do know is taking place.
Just last month, Amnesty International released new satellite images of a notorious North Korean prison camp that shows new housing blocks. A former guard told the agency of ongoing forced labor, the imprisonment of children, and of people being forced to dig their own graves. If you are still hungry for horror, give it a read.