Kim Jong Un Had Conductor Executed by Firing Squad Following Celebration, South Korean Paper Says

A recent report from a South Korean newspaper said that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered the execution of a choir conductor, who was allegedly shot 90 times in front of members of the public. The report also said members of the choir were forced to march past the dead body.

The stunning account comes from journalist Joo Seong-ha, who writes for the Dong-A Ilbo daily paper. The story was originally published on April 29 but has been shared online more widely since then. There is currently no independent corroboration of the story.

North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on June 30, 2019. BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/Getty Images

Joo wrote that the story began on February 16, which is Kim's birthday. North Korea celebrates that date as the Day of the Shining Star, and Kim and his wife appeared at the Mansudae Arts Theater in Pyongyang for a night of performances to mark the holiday.

Joo wrote that one of the shows performed that night was called "Shadow Magic," which featured actors doing magic tricks behind screens as if they were literally shadows. Afterward, Kim reportedly praised the production, but a conductor remarked to someone nearby that he didn't think the show was all that good. Later that night, Joo wrote, the conductor was arrested.

According to Joo, an order was issued two days later for all artists in Pyongyang to gather. The reporter wrote that on February 20 people gathered at an execution site, where they saw the conductor of the choir tied up.

As translated from Korean, Joo wrote: "The conductor of the choir...died horribly in front of his men.... The execution was carried out by three AK-47 automatic riflemen and shooting one magazine (30 rounds) each from a distance of 10m. It is said that the body, which was hit by 90 shots, became so full that it could not be lifted."

Joo wrote that the man was the conductor from the ceremony and that his name was heard to be Hyun-woo Cho. Joo also wrote that he tried to verify the name online, but the only conductor with a similar sounding name he could find was one named Hyun-ho Ryu, who is with the National Contribution Choir.

When he wrote the article, Joo was still not sure if the executed person was named Hyun-ho Ryu, Hyun-woo Cho or something else, "but it is certain that the conductor was publicly executed anyway."

North Korean defector Yeonmi Park shared details about the story on her YouTube channel. Yeonmi is a popular activist, though some of her personal accounts from her childhood in North Korea have been criticized for containing inconsistencies. (She's blamed these instances on translation mistakes.) Nonetheless, her video discussing the incident has received more than a million views.

Newsweek emailed the official website of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea), as well as Dong-A Ilbo, for comment but did not hear back before publication.