On March 13, 2017, I filed a suit against North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at the International Criminal Court for the brutal murder of his uncle Jang Song-taek and the ensuing purge of other high-ranking officials. This was a bloody massacre that transcends our wildest imagination.
I also became concerned about Jang’s widow Kim Kyong-hui, former leader Kim Jong-il’s sister. Senior North Korean defectors gave contradicting accounts of what happened to Kim Kyong-hui during the investigation into Jang, and my suspicions only became more severe after the public assassination of Kim Jong-un’s estranged half-brother Kim Jong-nam.
How Kim Kyong-hui coped with her husband’s brutal execution is unclear. One defector who used to be a high-ranking military officer in the North said the execution would not have been possible without her approval. Kim Kyong-hui, this version goes, is a member of North Korea’s de facto owner family and ended up killing her husband to help her nephew consolidate his grip on power. There were also rumors that the marriage had long existed on paper only due to his constant infidelities while she drifted into depression and alcoholism.
But another defector said Kim Kyong-hui was fiercely against her husband’s execution and protested to Kim Jong-un before he was murdered. When that failed she apparently made her point publicly to the Workers Party. Led by Jo Yon-jun, the first deputy of the party at the time, bigwigs sent a letter to Kim Jong-un supporting a stint in a re-education camp for Jang instead of execution. But the leader ignored the request.
Minister of State Security Kim Won-hong was ordered to blast Jang’s key aides Jang Su-gil and Ri Yong-ha to smithereens with anti-aircraft guns, and Jang went before a firing squad.
Even Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il were not such monsters. It is well-known that Kim Kyong-hui dared to travel all the way to Gangwon Province to meet Jang when they were lovers, despite of the vehement opposition of her father and brother. After their marriage, Jang had numerous affairs, just like Kim Jong-il, and although Jang and Kim Kyong-hui lived apart, Kim Jong-il did not allow them to divorce.
When Kim Jong-il died in 2011, Jang and Kim Kyong-hui apparently walked around Pyongyang with their arms around each other. Senior officials were relieved to see the couple show their solid bond at the time when the North had lost its supreme leader.
Perhaps the couple had decided to set aside their differences and come together for the sake of their country. Jang, who was then thought to be a mentor to his nephew, had always wanted to open Kim Jong-il’s secret coffers to the North Korean people, and there are indications that Kim Kyong-hui tried to transfer those funds to the party’s light industry department to revive the North’s moribund economy.
Even if Kim Kyong-hui decided to side with her spoiled nephew, she would have done it to help save North Korea. But Jong-un was no longer the child she knew. She did not realize that he had become a psychopath.
If Kim Kyong-hui agreed to have her husband executed, she must have been given a very persuasive reason. Some senior defectors said the accusations against Jang were fabricated and he never tried to overthrow Kim Jong-un, and it would at any rate have sufficed to strip him of his title and send him to a labor camp if he had become too rich and influential.
But Kim Kyong-hui ended up the widow of a publicly denounced traitor and was stripped of all official titles. One high-ranking North Korean defector has claimed that she, too, was poisoned. I doubted that at first, but no longer.