North Korean Art Troupe Leader, 3 Others Publicly Executed in Pyongyang

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (C) during an inspection of a military command at an undisclosed location in an official photo released Jan. 13, 2015.

The director general of North Korea's Unhasu Orchestra and three members of the troupe were stripped naked and shot dead with machine guns in a public execution in Pyongyang last month, a resident of the North Korean capital said, as South Korea's intelligence agency issued a tally of 15 executions ordered by leader Kim Jong-un so far in 2015.

The director general of the art troupe, which once featured Kim's wife Ri Sol-ju as a singer, was shot along with a woman in her 40s and two lower-level government officials in their 40s, the Pyongyang resident told RFA's Korean Service during a recent visit to China.

“It is not surprising that a public execution by firing squad was carried out,” said the source. But he added that the four condemned people were forced to stand naked while they were shot by security officials with machine guns while 400-500 members of the Pyongyang artistic community were forced to watch.

“There has been no execution done in this cruel way, so all people who saw this scene were shocked,” the source added.

“Authorities announced that they were executed on a charge of spying for South Korea,” the source said, but added: "We were not informed specifically how the executed artists were involved in South Korean espionage.”

A second Pyongyang source said the Unhasu director general was a Russian-trained composer and producer in his late 60s who came from Japan's pro-North Korean community.

“The difficult thing to understand about the execution is that although it is common that families of people involved in such a serious incident are made disappear, but their families are still in Pyongyang,” the source told RFA.

“They stay in Pyongyang, but seem to have been placed under house arrest by North Korean authorities," added the second source. But he said the families might face "follow-up measures such as political prisoner camp or deportation to a remote area."

The accounts of the Pyongyang execution came as South Korean and foreign media in Seoul quoted lawmakers briefed by National Intelligence Service (NIS) chief Lee Byoung Ho as saying Kim Jong Un has had 15 senior officials executed so far this year.

Disputes over reforestation, construction

The Associated Press reported that Lee told the lawmakers in a closed-door hearing that a North Korean official with a rank comparable to a vice Cabinet minister in the South was executed in January for questioning Kim's policies on forestation, while another official of similar rank was executed in February for opposing Kim's plans to build a giant building in the shape of the Kimilsungia flower, named after his grandfather, North Korea founder Kim Il Sung.

The NIS chief also told the lawmakers that the agency also believes that North Korea used a firing squad in March to execute four senior members of the Unhasu Orchestra.

North Korea has previously denied reports that members of Unhasu had been punished, lashing out at South Korean media in 2013 for reports saying Kim had nine performers executed to protect his wife Ri's reputation.

In Washington, a U.S. State Department spokesperson told RFA that the department had seen the media reports about the executions.

"If confirmed, this is another example of the extreme brutality of the North Korean regime," said the spokesperson

North Korea has previously denied reports that members of Unhasu had been punished, lashing out at South Korean media in 2013 for reporting that Kim had nine performers executed to protect his wife Ri's reputation.

North Korean defector Cho Chun-myung, a resident of the United States since 2013, said the latest reported executions suggested "anxiety and conflict" inside the secretive regime.

“Average North Koreans have no confidence in the Kim regime, and if they hear about the execution story then their disillusionment with the regime will increase," Cho told RFA's Korean Service.

Reported by Joon Ho Kim for RFA's Korean Service. Translated by Yunju Kim. Written in English by Paul Eckert.

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