North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s prolonged absence from the public has fueled rapidly spreading rumors about his death among North Koreans in the Sino-North Korean border region, Daily NK has learned.

North Koreans are “frightened” about even hearing rumors that Kim has died so everyone pretends not to know, but “everyone knows,” a North Hamgyong Province-based source told Daily NK on Apr. 29. 

“There are even people who say they saw the video claiming Kim had died, but most people are trying their best to stay unnoticed because the authorities are hunting down whoever brought the video over the border,” the source added. 

The source appears to be referring to a video circulating in the border region that another North Pyongan Province-based source told Daily NK about on Apr. 28. North Korean authorities have reportedly begun a manhunt to track down whoever disseminated the video inside the country. 

A DIFFERENT RESPONSE FROM THE PAST

The speculation around Kim Jong Un in the region includes not just rumors of his death, but also rumors of near-death, such as the rumor that Kim is in critical condition following a surgery.

In the past, any rumors about the North Korean leader or his family would have provoked a rapid response from state authorities. This time, however, North Korean authorities have made no such move to silence any rumors, provoking further suspicion about Kim’s present condition. 

“All sorts of rumors are spreading,” the North Hamgyong Province source told Daily NK. “But even though the government is aware of all this, there has been no centralized response to it, either in the form of lectures or otherwise. That’s really strange.” 

Ordinarily, the spread of such rumors would have provoked urgently-prepared lectures, with threats of severe punishment to any North Korean who dared to support the rumor mongering. 

In the past, state authorities actively sought to discourage North Koreans from spreading rumors with the threat of punishment. 

For example, North Koreans were ordered to remain silent in 2013, when there were scandalous rumors circulating about Kim Jong Un’s wife Ri Sol Ju. In 2014, similar actions were taken by the authorities when rumors made the rounds about the poor health of Kim Jong Un’s aunt Kim Kyong Hui. And in 2017, when rumors spread that Kim Jong Un had killed his half-brother Kim Jong Nam, North Korean authorities again set out to squash them. 

SECRET “ELATION” AMONG NORTH KOREANS

Despite the fear surrounding the rumors among North Koreans, “there’s quite a few people who are secretly elated at the rumors,” the North Hamgyong Province source told Daily NK.

“People talk about how fat Kim is among their trusted friends and wonder how he could be so overweight while his people are so thin. They crack jokes that he could explode if he gets any fatter,” he explained.

“So many North Koreans are suffering from malnutrition that it’s unlikely that there are many who feel overly concerned about Kim Jong Un’s health,” he added.

*Translated by Violet Kim

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Ha Yoon Ah is Daily NK's editor-in-chief. Please direct any questions about her articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.