For the last few weeks, rumours have circulated online that North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un is either seriously ill or even dead after reports showing that he was undergoing heart surgery emerged. The rumours intensified after the leader missed celebrations for the “Day of the Sun” which marks the birthday of the country’s founder and Kim Jong-un’s grandfather Kim il-Sung – a significant day for North Koreans.

While South Korea has dismissed the rumours as untrue, it hasn’t done much to quell speculation on the internet, especially as Kim Jong-un had not been seen since April 11th. The claims were first seen circulating on a website run by North Korea defectors.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently revealed that officials had not seen the leader recently and were keeping a close eye on reports concerning the leader’s health.

Other reports have emerged saying that Kim Jong-un was staying a sea-resort to keep isolated amidst the ongoing virus outbreak. The insular country closed borders in late January.

Who is North Korea’s Leader?

While Kim Jong-un is no stranger to most of us, there is still so much unknown about North Korea’s leader. He was appointed the Supreme Leader of North Korea in 2011, becoming one of the world’s youngest heads of state at the time.

Since coming into power, Kim Jong-un has ruled with an iron first and has come to be recognised as one of the world’s most oppressive leaders. His citizens are afforded little freedoms and human rights abuses run rampant in the nation.

This notion of abuse of power and human rights violations extends to his own family as well. Kim Jong-un ordered the execution of his uncle for treachery and is believed to be responsible for the assassination of his half-brother in 2017.


If the rumours turn out to be true, the question of succession arises. While many expect Kim’s younger sister Kim Yo Jong to succeed, the patriarchal nature of the ruling party may not be ready for such a huge change. However, considering the importance placed on founder Kim il-Sung, it would make sense that a direct descendant – Yo Jong – would be the next in line. She’s already thought to be involved in significant duties in the ruling party and is a close ally to her brother.

Kim Yo Jong came into the public sphere after attending the Winter Olympics in South Korea. Her visit was the first from North Korea’s ruling family since the Korean War.

However, while analysis and other forms of discourse take over the internet, nothing has yet been confirmed, meaning that for all we know, Kim Jong-un could be alive and well.

Photo credit: CNBC

Aisha Mohamed