Global Politics

A top official in North Korea is arrested for 'dreaming different dreams'

jangpurge2cropped.jpg

The moment of Jang Song Thaek's arrest, after he was denounced in the middle of a party meeting.

Credit:

KCTV/Youtube

One of North Korea's top officials has been dramatically and publicly purged from office.

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Jang Song Thaek was considered number two in the country by some observers. More than that, he's the uncle of Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un.

The hermit kingdom usually keeps its politics behind closed doors. So the televised purge of Jang, in the middle of a large party meeting, is almost unprecedented.

"It was quite a piece of theater," says Robert Carlin, a former top State Department intelligence analyst on North Korea. "He was unceremoniously escorted from the meeting room by a couple of guards. They announced that not only had he been removed from all of his posts, but his name is removed from the Workers Party of Korea, which means he is now a non-person. In layman's terms, he's toast."

A bill of charges against him was read, accusing him of living a depraved lifestyle, taking drugs and womanizing. But the most serious charge, according to Carlin, is the suggestion that he was setting up a faction. In the words of the denunciation, he was "dreaming different dreams."

Factionalism, says Carlin, "implies that there's an alternate power center. In effect, that there [is] a group of people who effectively can counter the views of the Supreme Leader. And that cannot be allowed to continue."

Jang is married to Kim Jong-un's aunt, and that has protected him in the past. He's been up and down the power ladder before, Carlin says, "but I don't think he's coming back this time."

Carlin says that, given the public nature of his arrest and the fact that nothing more serious was announced, it's likely Jang will spend a "long, long time under house arrest in the countryside."

"This is one more sign," Carlin adds, "that [Kim Jong-un] is competent. That his father trained him very well. And that he was more ready to take over than outsiders expected. ... So far, he's done a very good job, and understands very well the levers of power in his country."