Ending weeks of speculation behind the disappearance of North Korea's supreme leader Kim Jong Un, a state-run media outlet has released a set of photos and videos confirming that their leader is very much alive and well. However, netizens are convinced that a body double was used as a stand-in for the dictator for his latest public appearance.
The 36-year-old'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 passed away, while others alleged that a botched heart surgery had left him in a vegetative state.
Kim's first public appearance in 20 days
North Korean media continued to report on Kim's activities but had failed to release any photographic or video evidence to meaningfully contradict the rumours circulating about his death or ill-health until Saturday, when North Korea's KCNA released footage of Kim making a public appearance on May 1 for the inauguration of a fertiliser factory near Pyongyang, marking his first public appearance since April 11.
Netizens point out differences in facial, dental features
Shortly after footage of Kim's reappearance emerged, several social media users didn't waste any time in pointing out discrepancies in the leader's facial, hairline and dental features when comparing his recent public outing with previous appearances, leading many to believe that authorities may have used one of his body doubles to stand in for Kim and end the speculation surrounding his ill health.
Human rights activist Jennifer Zeng was the first to draw attention to dissimilarities between the two "versions" of Kim, including differences in their teeth, and ears. "Is the Kim Jong-un appearing on May 1 the real one?," she asked on Twitter along with side-by-side comparisons of Kim's "old and new" appearances in two separate posts.
Another user pointed out that Kim looks "slightly different" during his recent appearance. "Have y'all seen the latest pics of Kim Jong Un? He looks slightly different," wrote another Twitter user. "My theory is either that he died and was replaced by a clone/lookalike, or was out of the public eye for so long bc he was recovering from plastic surgery."
"His nose seems a little bit more rounded, his hairline looks wider, and he used to have WAY more wrinkles around the eyes when he smiled," the user added in a subsequent tweet.. "The hairline may just be receding or a fresh new haircut, but the smoother eyes and slightly different nose have me questioning things."
Kim's body doubles
It is a well-known fact that Kim uses body doubles. He often travels with them to ward off possible assassination attempts. Kim's father, Kim Jong-il was also rumoured 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.