Rumors about Kim Jong Un dying are going viral again, but experts say not to believe them

  • Rumors are once again spreading that Kim Jong Un is dying, but experts say they're unfounded.
  • The rumor began on Friday after a former South Korean minister said he had on good authority that the North Korean leader was in a coma.
  • Since then, the claim has been carried by several notable English-language news outlets, and is trending on Twitter.
  • However, multiple experts have poured cold water on the issue, noting that Kim has been conducting his official duties as normal and highlighting the sketchy nature of the original source.
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A wild rumor that North Korean despot Kim Jong Un is dying is once again spreading across social media but experts are saying not to believe them.

On Friday, Jang Sung-min, a former South Korean minister, said that an unnamed source in China had told him that Kim was "in a coma" but "his life has not ended," according to the Korea Herald, a South Korean news outlet.

Speculation has abounded in the wake of the report, and social media has become abuzz with the rumor that Kim is dead or close to it. The Mirror and the New York Post both reported on the rumor that Kim was in a coma.

That fire has also been stoked by news that Kim's sister, Kim Yo Jong, was recently given a slew of new official duties, including overseeing the country's relationship with South Korea.

However, North Korea watchers, including academics and analysts, say the rumors about Kim Jong Un's health are just that.

Alistair Coleman, a researcher at BBC Monitoring covering North Korea, said that the source of the rumor is sketchy.

"Former South Korean govt official, putting in a guess on the word of an unnamed source in China, going on to say that all recent Kim media appearances are forgeries. I'm not convinced," he wrote on Twitter.

John Delury, a professor at Yonsei University in South Korea, also called the news item "random speculation" that was "informed by nothing in particular."

Jeffrey Lewis, a North Korea watcher and director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, tweeted that Kim has been typically active in August, suggesting all is well.

"He's made ten appearances in the last thirty days, most recently on August 19," he tweeted.

Over the years, rumors of Kim's death have been proliferated by South Korean and western media outlets and on social media fairly frequently.

Though South Korea has the best intelligence from its northern neighbor, it has often been wrong in the past, BBC Seoul correspondent Laura Bicker said earlier this year.

In February 2012 a rumor spread that Kim had been assassinated during a visit to Beijing. Two years later, in October 2014, he was again assumed dead, after it was claimed he had been removed in a coup d'état. 

Most recently, Kim was assumed to be dead in April 2020 after missing a parade marking his grandfather's birthday on April 15, 2020. One South Korean minister suggested at the time that Kim may just have been self-isolating to avoid catching the coronavirus.

He reemerged after 20 days, at the opening of a fertilizer plant on May 2, but not before the rumors had spread across the world which ultimately prompted investigations by US intelligence agencies.

The recent rumors have also triggered a run of Kim-themed memes commending the leader's apparent ability to come back from the dead repeatedly.

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