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
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
video
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Jodie Stimpson crosses the finishing line to win gold in the women's triathlon
Commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan stars as Christian Grey in the Fifty Shades of Grey movie
filmFirst look at Jamie Dornan in Fifty Shades of Grey trailor
Life and Style
Phillips Idowu, Stella McCartney and Jessica Ennis
fashionMcCartney to continue designing Team GB Olympics kit until 2016
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
Sport
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Biomass Sales Consultant

£20000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitment Company...

Java Developer

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My Client are a successful software hous...

Senior Analyst - Financial Modelling

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: This really is a fantastic chance to joi...

MS Dynamics NAV/Navision Developer

£45000 - £53000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: **MS DYNAMICS N...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game