North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (left) claps during a conert in Pyongyang on Aug. 8. Hyon Song-wol (right) sings during a concert on Aug. 8. Image via Chosun Ilbo.
The former girlfriend of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un was reportedly one of a dozen well-known performers executed by a firing squad on Aug. 20, according to news reports.
Citing unnamed sources in China, the Chosun Ilbo reported yesterday that Hyon Song-wol, a popular singer with the Unhasu Orchestra, was arrested on Aug. 17 with 11 other performers for violating laws against pornography. The 12 were executed in public three days later. The victims included members of the orchestra, as well as singers, musicians, and dancers with the Wangjaesan Light Music Band.
The individuals were accused of videotaping themselves having sex and selling the videos, which have also apparently gone on sale in China. Another source the Chosun Ilbo cites said some allegedly had Bibles in their possession, and all were treated as political dissidents. The Unhasu Orchestra and Wangjaesan Light Music Band have apparently been disbanded indefinitely.
The families of the accused were made to watch on as they were executed, the newspaper reported. Afterward, they were reportedly sent to prison camps under North Korea’s principle of guilt by association.
Hyon was a singer with the Pochonbo Electronic Ensemble, which is famous for its revolutionary and propaganda songs. Kim is believed to have met Hyon about 10 years ago. When Kim struck up a relationship with her, his father did not approve and ordered to break it off. Hyon ended up marrying an officer in the North Korean military and reportedly had a baby.
“Since then there have been rumors that the two were having an affair,” the Chosun Ilbo reported.
The story gets even murkier: Kim’s wife, Ri Sol-ju, was also a member of the Unhasu Orchestra before marriage. The Telegraph cited a theory that Ri “objected to the continuing high profile of her husband’s former girlfriend.”
The executions aren’t the first Kim has ordered during his tenure since succeeding his father, Kim Jong-il, in December 2011. Kim Chol, vice minister of the army, was reportedly executed with a mortar round in October 2012 for drinking and carousing during the official mourning period. In further efforts to consolidate his power, Kim also forced his own stepmother, Kim Ok, from her post as a senior official in the Worker’s Party Finance and Accounting Department.
The Telegraph cited an expert on North Korean affairs, who speculated that Hyon was executed for “political reasons,” suggesting that she and the others may have been leaning towards a rival political faction.