A North Korean firing squad last week executed a former girlfriend of leader Kim Jong Un and 11 other entertainers for allegedly violating laws banning pornography, a South Korean newspaper reported Thursday.
The report by Chosun Ilbo, an English-language newspaper of a Seoul media conglomerate, deemed the reported Aug. 20 executions a death blow to expectations that Kim would oversee a transition of his isolated and tyrannized people into a more open era.
Among the dozen performers shot to death while their families and former band members were forced to watch was Hyon Song Wol, a singer Kim reportedly courted a decade ago but was forced to abandon by his dictatorial father, Kim Jong Il.
Hyon was pictured by North Korean state television performing at a concert Aug. 8 in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, less than two weeks before her execution, Chosun Ilbo reported, posting a picture of the singer juxtaposed against one of Kim applauding at the concert.
The 12 members of the Unhasu Orchestra and the Wangjaesan Light Music Band were accused of violating anti-pornography laws by videotaping themselves having sex and selling copies of the tape to North Korean fans and in China.
The South Korean newspaper, which attributed reports of the executions to sources in China, said one also claimed that some of those arrested in the Aug. 17 crackdown were found to have Bibles in their possession. Like most communist countries, North Korea denounces religion as an undesirable foreign influence.
Hyon married a North Korean military officer after Kim's father forced their breakup, but reportedly continued to see the Pyongyang heir apparent even after her marriage, Chosun Ilbo said.
Kim, 30, is believed to have married Hyon's fellow band member, Ri Sol Ju, in the last year or so. Ri began showing up with Kim at cultural events in the capital a little more than a year ago, including at a female band concert in July 2012 that featured Western music, mini-skirted violinists and a parade of knock-off Disney characters. The gala raised speculation that Kim would relax longstanding constraints on artistic expression and social behavior imposed by his father and grandfather since North Korea's emergence as a separate state after World War II.
The performance that dispensed with the usual dour dress and state-mandated repertoire gave rise to "hopes that the young leader is more open to ideas from overseas, but that was apparently misreading," Chosun Ilbo concluded.
"Kim Jong Un has been viciously eliminating anyone who he deems a challenge to his authority," the newspaper said, quoting an unnamed source. The executions "show that he is fixated on consolidating his leadership."
Kim and his military and political hierarchies provoked new strain in relations with South Korea and the West this year by conducting a prohibited nuclear bomb test and proclaiming as invalid the 1953 armistice that halted fighting in the Korean War. The two sides never signed a peace treaty to formally end the conflict.