A report published by a government-funded South Korean think tank claimed that North Korea's supreme leader, Kim Jong-un, has executed 340 people during his five years in power. The executions, half of which were government or military officials, were carried out using firing squads or anti-aircraft guns.
The crimes that lead to the executions ranged from serious, such as defection or disobedience, to trivial disciplinary offences, such as falling asleep in meetings or indulging in recreational activities. Experts from the think tank reportedly believe that Kim's show of brutality is a way of tightening his grip on power.
In a report titled The Misgoverning of Kim Jong Un's Five Years in Power, the Institute for National Security Strategy said on Thursday (29 December) that 140 of the 340 people put to death by the dictator since 2011 were officials in the government, military and ruling Korean Worker's Party.
In 2016 alone, the dictator had ordered the public execution of 64 people labelled as "traitors", the think tank reportedly stated in an October report. The Daily Mail quoted the think tank report as stating that Kim's bloodshed even surpassed his father Kim Jong-il's bloody regime from 1994 until his death in 2011.
He even ordered the execution of his own uncle, Jang Song Thaek, in 2013 for trying to overthrow his government. North Korean state media reports described his uncle as a "traitor for all ages".
Bruce Bennett, RAND Corporation Senior Defense Analyst, said that Kim had shown an "extreme" level of brutality and ruthlessness since 2011.
"For example, in the five years he has served as leader of North Korea, he has purged (his) Defense Minister five times, while his father changed his Defense Minister only three times in his 17 years ... and two of those changes were because (they) died of old age," he told CNN.
Because of the country's reclusive nature and tight restrictions on media agencies, news about these executions seldom leaks. However, several media reports, citing information leaked by government sources or defectors, stated that the Pyongyang leader had ordered the executions of a top-ranking education minister, military chief and many other officials throughout 2016.
The think tank report attributed the reason for the rise in the execution of officials under Kim Jong-un's rule to his increasing paranoia about his personal safety.
Explaining Kim's extreme reaction to perceived threats, Hawaii Pacific University professor Seung-Kyun Ko told CNN: "During his upbringing, he has been spoiled because he was a son of Kim Jong Il. The major danger is there is no one in his leadership circle to restrain him."
Ko added that Kim was desperate to live up to the expectation that he would be a "great leader" and "to do so, he has been pushing around the top leaders - military and civil, primarily the party - to show off his being the boss".