Kim Jong Un's absence from the birth anniversary celebrations of Kim Il Sung, the founder of North Korea and his late grandfather, one of the most significant holidays in the country, spurred an explosion of reports over his ill health, with some outlets claiming that the leader had died, while others alleged that a botched cardiovascular surgery has left him in a vegetative state.
Although state-run media outlets released a set of photos and videos to confirm that their leader is very much alive and well and end weeks of speculation, it appears as though reports surrounding the dictator's ill health haven't died down in North Korea.
Death rumors continue to circulate in North Korea
In the Sino-North Korean border region, whispers about the 36-year-old continue, even after the leader's much-publicized public appearance at a fertilizer factory near Pyongyang on May 1, following a 20-day absence.
Authorities are cracking down on those spreading rumors and threatening people with severe penalties in the region, a source told Daily NK. "The general approach seems to be to ignore [the rumors], but they do keep threatening severe penalties for anyone who makes [international] phone calls in the Sino-North Korean border," the source revealed.
It seems like the country was not convinced with Kim's last-minute appearance to inaugurate the fertilizer factory after reports emerged that the plant is still unfinished and inoperable.
Fertilizer factory incomplete and inoperable
A separate report from Daily NK claims North Korean officials made last-minute arrangements to organize the fertilizer plant inauguration to parade Kim in front of the world and quell rumors surrounding his health even though the plant is still incomplete and not even operational. "On Apr. 28 the [North Korean communist party's] Central Committee abruptly issued an order to prepare the factory's completion ceremony," a source inside North Korea told Daily NK.
"For two days the construction workers fully devoted themselves to preparing for the ceremony. They worked themselves to the bone day and night to create the appearance of a finished factory, coating the outside of the building and fitting it with glass, among other things," he added. The report pointed out that the factory is unable to manufacture any fertilizer because of the difficulty of importing equipment and raw materials.
Body double theory
This has led many to believe the widely circulated body double theory that has been doing the rounds since Kim's appearance. As per the theory, North Korean authorities used one of Kim's body doubles as a stand-in at the fertilizer plant while the real Kim recovers from his ill-health. The speculation gained traction after Twitter users pointed out differences in the leader's facial, hairline, and dental features when comparing his recent public outing with previous appearances, as previously reported.
It is widely known that Kim uses body doubles and often travels with them to ward off possible assassination attempts. Kim's father, Kim Jong-il was also rumored to have sent a body double to meet Bill Clinton during the former president's visit to Pyongyang in 2009. In 2017, Kim Jong Un was captured chatting with some of his lookalikes, dressed exactly like him, down to the trademark black suit and haircut, during a missile launch, in rare video footage obtained by The Sun.