A series of images have emerged from North Korea showing the moment the uncle of Kim Jong-un was dragged away by uniformed guards, confirming rumours that the dictator’s onetime mentor has been purged.
Jang Song-thaek had not been seen in public since late November, amid reports two of his closest aides had been executed in public after being found guilty of a litany of crimes.
The humiliating pictures were the first such images since the late 1970s from North Korea of a purged official, according to analysts in South Korea, who believe they have been released to show the world that Mr Kim is firmly in charge.
Several defence ministers and army chiefs have been purged by Mr Kim in the past two years as he moves to assert his authority over the military. But Mr Jang is by far the most senior official to have been ousted and his sacking means Pyongyang is undergoing its biggest leadership upheaval since the death of Kim Jong-il, Mr Kim’s father, in 2011.
The images showed 67-year-old Mr Jang in an auditorium, being pulled into the aisle by his arms as dozens of other officials look on. He has already been airbrushed out of other images, while his name has been removed from previous news reports.
It is not clear when the photographs of Mr Jang were taken. Unconfirmed reports from Free North Korea Radio suggested that he may already have been executed.
The North’s KCNA news agency said in a report following a meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party politburo that he had been dismissed for a series of criminal acts, including corruption, womanising and drug-taking.
“Jang and his followers committed criminal acts baffling imagination and they did tremendous harm to our party and revolution,” KCNA said.
“Jang pretended to uphold the party and leader but was engrossed in such factional acts as dreaming different dreams and involving himself in double-dealing behind the scene.”
It added: “Affected by the capitalist way of living, Jang committed irregularities and corruption and led a dissolute and depraved life.
“By abusing his power, he was engrossed in irregularities and corruption, had improper relations with several women and was wined and dined at back parlours of deluxe restaurants.”
Yang Soo-jin, of Seoul’s University of North Korean Studies, said: “The publication of such images is aimed at showcasing to the world that the purge is being led by Kim Jong-un himself.”
Andrew Lankov, an expert on North Korea at Kookmin University, described the move as “the most prominent disgrace of an official in North Korea’s entire history”.
“It tells us something about the new leadership’s style: the young man seems really tough and brutal in dealing with people he wants to destroy,” he told the Guardian.
Last week, reports in South Korea suggested that Kim Kyong-hui, Mr Kim’s 65-year-old aunt and wife of Mr Jang, may be the next senior member of the regime to be purged. The daughter of Kim Il-sung, North Korea’s founder, she is rumoured to be battling cancer, alcoholism and depression linked to the death of her daughter in 2006.
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