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 - at least according to a South Korean newspaper.
The report by Chosun Ilbo, an English-language newspaper of a Seoul media conglomerate, published on Thursday deemed the reported August 20 executions a death blow to expectations that Mr Kim would oversee a transition of his isolated and tyrannised people into a more open era.
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According to South Korean reports, the ex-girlfriend of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was put to death on pornography allegations.
Like many stories out of the Hermit Kingdom, the reports remain unconfirmed and are based on unnamed sources.
In this episode, among the dozen performers shot to death while their families and former band members were forced to watch was Hyon Song-wol, a singer Mr 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 August 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 August 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 Mr Kim's father forced their breakup, but reportedly continued to see the Pyongyang heir apparent even after her marriage, Chosun Ilbo said.
Mr Kim, 30, is believed to have married Hyon's fellow band member, Ri Sol-ju, in the last year or so. Ms 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 Mr Kim would relax longstanding constraints on artistic expression and social behaviour imposed by his father and grandfather since North Korea's emergence as a separate state after World War II.
The performance, which 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 [a] 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 unidentified source. The executions "show that he is fixated on consolidating his leadership."
Mr 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.
Los Angeles Times with Fairfax