The once-powerful aunt of North Korea strongman Kim Jong-un, who had not been seen in public since the downfall and execution of her husband, has reappeared as a guest of honor at an official Lunar New Year’s Day celebration.
Kim Kyong-hui, a full sister of Kim Il-sung who held significant sway in North Korean politics under her father and, later, her brother, had not been seen since 2013. In December of that year her husband, the powerful general Jang Song-thaek, met with an unexpected political and physical demise. His arrest during a politburo meeting was shown by state television; he was accused of treason then executed by firing squad.
Jang’s downfall led to media speculation that his family would also be purged. Kim Kyong-hui’s subsequent disappearance from public view led to rumors of her imprisonment, of suicide, of a secret poisoning or death from health problems.
Kim Jong Un’s aunt, Kim Kyong Hui once reported dead, makes surprise public appearance, six years after husband’s execution by firing squad. pic.twitter.com/9ipNfOwUAM
— Graphenes (@Graphenes1) January 26, 2020
However, the 73-year-old is alive and was photographed sitting next to her nephew and his wife, Ri Sol-ju, during a performance at Pyongyang’s Samjiyon Theater. KCNA, North Korea’s official news agency, also mentioned her by name in its report from the concert, a first in many years.
Keeping track of public figures is a difficult task in North Korea, where the flow of information is strictly controlled. Filling in the gaps are media outlets in Japan and South Korea eager to paint the nation in the darkest possible terms. On numerous occasions, people who’d been reported as killed in some graphic way or disappeared for some slight against Kim Jong-un, later showed up alive and well.
The peak of Kim Kyong-hui’s political career came during the latest years of her brother’s rule, when she accompanied Kim Il-sung during inspection trips and reportedly acted as his personal assistant and confidante. In 2010 she joined the politburo and was given the rank of a four-star general.
After Kim Jong-un inherited the country’s leadership from his father the following year, Kim Kyong-hui and her husband reportedly served as co-chairs of an informal ‘regency council’ facilitating the transition of effective power to her nephew.
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