A North Korean official widely deemed as the nation’s second most powerful figure has been missing for some time, raising speculation that he has been executed.
The apparent disappearance of Vice Marshal Hwang Pyong-so was first reported in November, with South Korea’s National Intelligence Service telling lawmakers in Seoul that he’d been “punished” for having an “impure” attitude about North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
"If Hwang was indeed kicked out of the Workers’ Party, it would practically mean the end of his political career, and possibly his life, though it is unknown whether or not he is still alive," one South Korean paper reported.
Hwang was reportedly last seen in public on October 13. But there is some reason to believe that he may have only been reprimanded, and not killed, as the New York Times reports that the phrases "purge" and "execution" were not used in the intelligence report.
Newsweek notes that he has vanished before, but not for this long. Hwang was absent for three weeks in December of 2015, a departure a South Korean media outlet suggested was for medical reasons.
The belief that Hwang has been executed is largely based on both the amount of time he’s been away and Kim Jong-un’s history of handling officials who he believes have betrayed him.
The leader has reportedly had numerous officials and even family members killed for reasons ranging from falling asleep in a meeting to perceived betrayal.
The individuals killed include Kim’s uncle General Jang Song-Thaek, who was declared a traitor.