Fact Check

Did Kim Jong Un Order North Korea's First Coronavirus Patient To Be Executed?

Rumors from North Korea are notoriously difficult to fact check.

Published March 23, 2020

North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un attends a meeting with US President Donald Trump on the south side of the Military Demarcation Line that divides North and South Korea, in the Joint Security Area (JSA) of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized zone (DMZ) on June 30, 2019. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP)        (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images) (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
Image courtesy of BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images
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North Korea leader Kim Jong Un ordered his country's first COVID-19 patient to be shot dead.

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In February 2020, as the COVID-19 coronavirus disease continued to spread around the globe, a rumor circulated on social media holding that North Korea Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un had ordered the country's first COVID-19 patient to be shot dead:

We have not been able to verify this rumor. Details about the alleged execution are scarce, and we have yet to see any substantiated reports about the person's purported death.

The claim that Kim ordered the country's first coronavirus patient to be executed is likely related to a report from the South Korean newspaper Donga. On Feb. 13, Donga reported, citing sources from North Korea, that a bureaucrat who had been quarantined as a precautionary measure was executed after breaking quarantine to visit a public bath. Donga reports that this person was allegedly sentenced to death because the public's health was put at risk.

This report comes from anonymous sources and does not provide specific details about the incident (such as the name of the public facility or the name of the official). While other outlets have picked up on this report, they all appear to be based on the same anonymous sources and lack any specific verifiable details.

Verifying rumors from North Korea is difficult because the country has strict control over its media. As of this writing, North Korea maintains it has not had a single case of COVID-19 within its borders.

The Associated Press reported on March 13:

The top American general in South Korea said Friday he is fairly certain North Korea has not been spared by the COVID-19 outbreak that began in neighboring China, although the North has not publicly confirmed a single case.

Speaking by video-teleconference from his headquarters in South Korea, Army Gen. Robert Abrams told reporters at the Pentagon that the North had halted military training for a month — including a 24-day hiatus in military flying — but has since resumed.

"It is a closed-off nation, so we can’t say emphatically that they have cases, but we’re fairly certain they do,” he said. "What I do know is that their armed forces had been fundamentally in a lockdown for about 30 days and only recently have they started routine training again. As one example, they didn’t fly an airplane for 24 days.” He said they have resumed flying.

Because we cannot confirm the accuracy of reports that claim Kim ordered North Korea's first COVID-19 patient to be executed, we've marked this claim as "Unproven."

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Burns, Robert.   "US General: ‘Fairly Certain’ North Korea Has COVID-19 Cases."     The Associated Press   13 March 2020.

Kasulis, Kelly.   "Alarm and Scepticism Over N Korea Claim of Being Coronavirus Free."     Al Jazeera   21 March 2020.

Sung, Joo.   “코로나 예방차원 격리된 北관료, 몰래 대중목욕탕 갔다가 총살”     Donga.   13 February 2020.

Dan Evon is a former writer for Snopes.

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