The singer, the X-rated movies and the dictator: Kim Jong-un's former lover ‘executed by machine-gun for appearing in porn films’

A member of a North Korean pop group and erstwhile companion of the country's leader has reportedly been killed by machine gun

She was first identified as Kim Jong-un’s old flame 13 months ago, in July 2012. The poised, coiffed and elegantly dressed companion of the North Korean dictator of Kim Jong-un was filmed sitting next to him at a concert in Pyongyang, then ascending the stage with him to applaud the performers. One month later, however, she vanished from the scene as abruptly as she had arrived. And today came the shocking news that Hyon Song-wol, one of the reclusive state’s most popular singers, had been executed by machine gun.

Eleven other members of her pop group were reportedly executed with her earlier this month, accused of filming themselves having sex with each other then selling the videos.

Other musicians linked to the 12 who allegedly died were forced to watch the grisly killings, then sent to labour camps, victims of the reclusive regime’s policy of collective punishment. South Korean Pyongyang watchers had named Ms Hyon as Kim’s girlfriend when he was a teenager. His father, Kim Jong-il, was said to have disapproved of the relationship and forced his son to break it off. The fresh encounter with his sweetheart was interpreted as evidence that the youngest Kim was shaking off his father’s influence and taking his own decisions. 

Whether the woman photographed with the young leader really was the singing star has never been clarified. A fortnight later, when Kim was photographed with another young woman on his arm at the opening of a Pyongyang amusement park, North Korea’s official media pointedly identified her as “his wife, Comrade Ri Sol-ju” – a woman who had performed with the same group as Hyon Song-wol. 

This terse announcement was a revolution in North Korean terms, where until now the private lives of the rulers had been kept strictly secret.

Hyon Song-wol’s patriotic hits included “Footsteps of Soldiers”, “I Love Pyongyang”, “She is a Discharged Soldier”, “We Are Troops of the Party”, and “Excellent Horse-like Lady”.

Why she and her fellow musicians should have been reduced to selling videos of themselves having sex, and why this severely proscribed activity should have been punished in such a cruel and public fashion, remains a mystery. 

Chosun Ilbo, the respected South Korean daily with sales of over two million, reported that Hyon Song-wol and her colleagues had been arrested on 17 August for breaking pornography laws. Their public execution took place three days later, with other members of North Korea’s most famous pop groups force to watch before being dispatched to prison camps, from which few prisoners return.

The severity of the punishment indicated that there was a political dimension to the case, according to one Japanese authority on North Korean affairs. Professor Toshimitsu Shigemura of Waseda University in Tokyo told The Daily Telegraph, “If these people had only made pornographic videos, then it is simply not believable that their punishment was execution. They could have been made to disappear into the prison system instead.”

Such a hideous fate could only be explained if the singer and her comrades had been identified with a rival power faction in Pyongyang, the professor went on. An alternative explanation was that the elegant Hyon Song-wol, so publicly identified with Kim Jong-un, had attracted the jealous ire of Kim’s wife. 

“There is a political reason behind this,” he said. “Or, as Kim’s wife once belonged to the same group, it is possible that these executions are more about Kim’s wife.”

Reports of the execution clashed strangely with news that not only is Pyongyang busy mending the bridges with the South that it had deliberately blown up earlier this year, but that it is also hoping to open the country to an unprecedented wave of foreign tourists.

In April, reacting furiously to the annual military exercises staged by the US and South Korea, the North Koreans pulled their 53,000-strong workforce from the Kaesong industrial complex where around 100 South Korean firms had been producing textiles and electronic goods with North Korean labour since 2004. A dry run for an intended gradual rapprochement between the two countries, Kaesong remained unique and dependent on subsidies from Seoul, which provided the electricity and water the plants required, and two square meals a day for the workers. Of the $140 paid per worker per month, the Pyongyang regime took a large chunk.

Despite obtaining no concessions from the South from its torrent of threats and menaces, Pyongyang has now, after seven rounds of talks with the South, agreed to reopen the complex. It has also agreed to resume the temporary reunions of families separated by the division of the peninsula ever since the end of the Korean War, after a suspension lasting three years, and to once again allow holidaymakers from the South to visit the resort of Mt Kumgang, which is barred to ordinary North Koreans. Visits to the area were abruptly cancelled in 2008 after a North Korean soldier shot dead a tourist on the beach.

More ambitious are the efforts announced this week to attract tourists from much farther afield. Announcing plans for flights to Pyongyang from China, South-east Asia and Europe, North Korea’s tourism tsar, Jo Song-gyu, told the state news agency, “Abundant in tourism resources, [North Korea] has a bright future to develop tourism.” He added that hotels were being refurbished to international standards, and duty-free shops and fitness centres were being constructed.

Until now the small numbers of Western tourists coming to the country have been closely watched and rigidly controlled to prevent them having unrehearsed encounters with ordinary North Koreans. If Pyongyang is now contemplating accepting much larger numbers – inherently harder to control – the nation’s need for hard currency must be getting desperate.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
From Mean Girls to Mamet: Lindsay Lohan
theatre
Sport
Nathaniel Clyne (No 2) drives home his side's second goal past Arsenal’s David Ospina at the Emirates
footballArsenal 1 Southampton 2: Arsène Wenger pays the price for picking reserve side in Capital One Cup
News
Mike Tyson has led an appalling and sad life, but are we not a country that gives second chances?
peopleFormer boxer 'watched over' crash victim until ambulance arrived
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
tv
News
i100
Travel
travelGallery And yes, it is indoors
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
The Tiger Who Came To Tea
booksJudith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Account Executive/Sales Consultant – Permanent – Hertfordshire - £16-£20k

£16500 - £20000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

KS2 PPA Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Worthing!

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: KS2 PPA Teacher currently nee...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Day In a Page

Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

BBC Television Centre

A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

My George!

Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world