North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un has ordered the jailing of 40 popular actors and actresses as part of his relentless crackdown on those closely linked to his executed uncle, sources say.
Jang Song Thaek's execution two months ago followed a massive purge in the government and military, and Kim seems to be moving now to flush out Jang's allies in the entertainment industry, according to the sources.
“About 40 entertainers, referred to as a group linked to Jang Song Thaek, have been sent to Soosung prison in Chongjin in North Hamgyong province,” a source told RFA's Korean Service, referring to a detention facility that is usually reserved for "first class" political prisoners.
"I heard this from a North Korean official of North Hamgyong province who is in charge of earning foreign currency," the source said, as if to reinforce the credibility of his information.
The source said he was informed that entertainers belonging to such popular groups as the Chosun Art Film Studio, Pyongyang Circus Troupe, and Mansudae Art Theater were taken to the prison facility on Jan. 17 in two trucks.
Among those thrown in prison were Ryu Jin Ah, a singer with the Moranbong Band who was known to be Jang's "lover," and Li Yik Seung, an actor with Chosun Art Film Studio believed to be involved in "procuring" actresses for Jang and officials close to him, another source said.
The Moranbong Band made a public appearance in July 2012 on Kim's orders and Ryu was bestowed a top entertainer title a year later, according to the official Korean Central News Agency.
Li, who won the Kim Jong Il Award in February 2012, played the role of a mine owner in “Comrade Kim Goes Flying,” a 2012 romantic comedy film co-produced by North Korea, Britain, and Belgium.
The second source, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said Ryu and Li were linked to the 67-year-old Jang's "womanizing problem," cited as among reasons for his execution aside from the more serious charges of attempting to overthrow the government and seize power from his nephew.
“It is well known among residents in North Hamgyong province that a number of entertainers have been confined in the Soosung prison in Chongjin,” the source said.
A former Japanese chef for the Kim family told RFA recently that Kim had ordered Jang's execution for his role in procuring teenage girls to satisfy the sexual desires of Kim's father and Jang himself.
Chef Kenji Fujimoto said that by having Jang killed, Kim "wanted to prove that he's different" from his father Kim Jong Il and his grandfather Kim Il Sung, both of whom he said had "quite a history with women."
Fujimoto, who was Kim Jong Il's personal sushi chef from 1988 to 2001, claimed that aside from his official duties as de facto number two to Kim Jong Il, the 67-year-old Jang had been in charge of a "pleasure division" tasked with recruiting girls aged 15-16 years for the late dictator.
In his New Year message broadcast on state TV, Kim Jong Un defended the execution of his uncle—who was married to his father’s sister—saying it was a "resolute action" and labeling Jang "scum."
Jang was also de facto number two under the junior Kim before his execution and was considered instrumental in his rise to power in December 2011.
Sources inside North Korea had told RFA earlier that Kim was already purging the country's military officer corps of personnel linked to Jang in a massive shake-up that has led to a freeze on military exercises and delayed replacement of cadres in the ruling party but raised promotion prospects for younger officers.
Reported by Sung-hui Moon for RFA's Korean Service. Translated by Doeun Han. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.