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While very little is known about everyday life in North Korea, one widely publicised aspect is the nation’s intolerance for dissidence and attempts to undermine their regime. During Kim Jong-un’s first five years as ruler, he was reported to have executed 340 people in a bid to consolidate his power, according to a South Korean think-tank. Of that figure, 120 were senior government officials. They included the dictator’s uncle Jang Song-thaek who was later described as “factionalist filth” during Kim Jong-un’s New Year’s message in 2014. When the current leader vanished from the public eye in April and May, his sister Kim Yo-jong appeared to take the reins and made a number of statements on behalf of the country. But according to historical accounts, it appears that she will have to be careful in her approach and not upset her brother by posing any challenge to his rule.
Kim Jong-un became the leader of North Korea after his father Kim Jong-il died of a heart attack in December 2011.
Chris Mikul, who wrote ‘My Favourite Dictators’ last year, explained that he quickly asserted his power and quashed any suggestions that he would be a “figurehead” because of his age.
While Kim Jong-un’s date of birth has never been confirmed by the regime, it is believed he would have been between 27 and 29 years old when he rose to power.
Mr Mikul told Express.co.uk: “There are a lot of signs that he is a more benevolent character than his father and grandfather and has concern for the welfare of people.
“The use of Disney costumes would never have happened under Kim Jong-il, it’s just another reason why he is different – despite this he is still a brutal dictator.”
He claimed that while Kim Jong-un has been vastly different from his grandfather Kim Il-sung, the founding leader of North Korea, he would never do anything to put his authority at risk.
Mr Mikul added: “It’s not enough to jeopardise their power but there are little moments where they can seem to be human rather than monsters.”
During Kim Jong-un’s alleged attempts to consolidate power he had a number of government officials executed – including his uncle Jang Song-thaek.
He was Kim’s uncle and held a highly important role, the vice-chairman of the National Defence Commission – which is considered the nation’s second most important role.
The state claimed that Song-thaek had betrayed North Korea and was involved in a plot to undermine Kim Jong-un.
Details of the execution have never been confirmed or denied – as is often the case with the regime – but a number of shocking claims have since emerged.
The Hong Kong newspaper ‘Wen Wei Po’ alleged that Song-thaek along with other ‘traitors’ had been stripped naked and eaten alive by 120 dogs that had been starved for three days.
Another report suggested that he had been brutally murdered with anti-aircraft machine guns.
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While the claims have not been verified it is known that the execution happened in front of other officials and it may have been a warning “not to revolt” to the public, according to one expert.
Aidan Foster-Carter, then a senior research fellow of Sociology and Modern Korea at Leeds University, told The Independent in 2016 that the “severe punishments” act as a deterrent.
He said: “I put no cruelty past the North Korean regime, but it does sound extreme even for them.
“In the recent past, they did have an effigy of the South Korean president mauled by dogs.”
While it is believed that Kim Yo-jong, Kim Jong-un’s sister, is in favour at the moment historical accounts suggest she will need to be careful not to overstep the mark.
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Under the dictator’s regime, those who stand against him appear to be at risk – and killings are further justified to the public through censored state media reports.
When Jang Song-thaek was executed he was described as “despicable sub-human scum, worse than a dog” despite the exact details of his crimes never being fully publicised.
His photographs were removed from official media and his image was digitally removed from pictures with other North Korean leaders.
Despite the beliefs that Kim Yo-jong may have been gearing-up to take over in the event of Kim Jong-un’s death – North Korea expert Chris Mikul believes this move is unlikely.
He told Express.co.uk: “I can’t think of any other woman who has had any role in politics in North Korea since it began, which gives us something to ponder about.
“I don’t know anyone who has spoken on behalf of any of the Kims until it happened either, so it’s unusual.”
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