With all we really don’t know about North Korea, it can sometimes feel like you’re stuck in line at Safeway staring at the tabloids. Nary a week goes by without a news outlet seizing upon blurry photographs or unsubstantiated reports to attempt to peel back the private lives of Pyongyang’s rich and infamous.
One of the big NK stories this week is a perfect example. The Chosun Ilbo led on August 29th with an unconfirmed report that Kim Jong-Un had ex-girlfriend and famous DPRK singer Hyon Song-wol executed by firing squad, along with a dozen other members of the Wangjaesan Light Music Band. And, with the unstoppable force of a J-Bieb breakup, versions of the story spread to western outlets like wildfire (take your pick: Huffington Post, Telegraph UK, Washington Times, Fox News).
But not without good reason: this thing is juicy. Aside from the megalomaniac-dictator-turned-jilted-lover angle, Hyon Song-wol is sweet, pretty, and apparently as close to a pop idol as you can get in North Korea. She’s also really good at making fabrics, as the music video for her 2005 hit “Excellent Horse-Like Lady” attests.
And pornography, you say? The unofficial official government cover story seems to be that Hyong Song-wol and members of her Orchestra were arrested/executed for making sex tapes of themselves and selling the videos, which have apparently even made their way to China. Finally, the cherry on top, which I will just summarize by an International Business Times headline and picture:
Minus the word “execution” and “dictator”, this would not be out of place in the National Inquirer right next to “Inside Tom Cruise’s Secret Island“. Yes, Ri Sol-ju, Kim’s wife, once belonged to the same Unhasu Orchestra group as Hyon, leaving the gate wide open for speculators to conclude some kind of jealous love triangle gone very wrong.
Gossip can get pretty grisly, but if this is true in some form or another it is a horrible travesty and a gross violation of human rights. The Choson Ilbo claims that just three days after the arrest, Hyon and fellow performers were publicly machine-gunned to death, while acquaintances and family members were forced to watch — before being carted off to prison themselves.
However, here’s the thing that most of these articles really try to sweep under the rug: we have no idea if this actually happened. The Choson Ilbo story comes from unknown and unverified sources in China, and from the looks it, Western news outlets basically summarized the original article or appended it with interviews on what various North Korea experts thought about the whole sordid affair. However, whether or not a sex tape exists, whether Kim Jong-un and Hyon Song-wol were actually lovers a decade ago, or whether there was even an execution, nobody on the outside knows.
As we continue to consume these stories – and as other shocking “reports” from North Korea surface in the future, it should be a sobering thought that, as revealed by the CIA’s Black Budget, even America’s biggest intel agency knows little about what actually goes on in Jong-un’s court.