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[Editorial] Brutal executions

Reign of terror will accelerate NK leaders’ downfall

Sept. 2, 2016 - 18:28 By 조혜림

Ruthless North Korean leader Kim Jung-un is continuing his bloody reign of terror.

The South Korean government confirmed Wednesday that the North recently executed a vice premier and sent two other senior officials to rural farms for re-education on the revolutionary spirit.

The executed official was Kim Yong-jin, 63, an expert in educational administration. According to the South’s Unification Ministry, Kim was initially investigated by the North’s intelligence agency for his bad sitting posture shown at a parliamentary meeting held in late June. 

During the investigation, he was branded as an anti-party and anti-revolutionary element and was finally executed by firing squad in July.

The ministry’s account is hard to believe, but Kim was not the first victim to be executed for such a trivial reason as bad sitting posture. In April last year, Hyon Yong-chol, then chief of the People‘s Armed Forces, was killed by anti-aircraft gunfire for dozing off during a military meeting presided over by the relentless North Korean leader.

The ministry also said Kim Yong-chol, head of the North’s United Front Department, was sent for a month of forced labor and re-education on a rural farm for his high-handedness and abuse of his power.

Kim, a former head of the General Bureau of Reconnaissance of the North’s military, is believed to be the mastermind of the 2010 torpedo attack against the South’s Navy warship Cheonan.

Since taking power in late 2011, the young North Korean leader has ordered the execution of more than 130 high ranking officials. The number of executed officials rose from three in 2012 to around 30 in 2013, more than 40 in 2014 and some 60 in 2015. This year, the figure topped 60 as of August.

The rise in executions suggests Kim’s growing difficulty in securing support from officials for his leadership. Unable to win voluntary support from them, he has been increasingly relying on brutal violence to ensure their loyalty.

But his cruel and unpredictable governing style has only increased regime instability. By ruthlessly executing officials around him, he has created an atmosphere of fear in the officialdom. Gripped by fear of their lives, a growing number of the North Korean elite sought to flee from the country. 

The most recent example is Thae Yong-ho, North Korea‘s deputy ambassador to Britain who recently defected to the South.

As the North’s young leader is expected to continue to wield his iron fist to maintain power, defections of the North Korean elite are likely to increase in the future, further destabilizing his regime. Kim should realize that executions do not solidify his power base. They will only accelerate his downfall.