29 November 2022 :
A notice posted in the North Korean capital earlier this year and seen by NK News this week warns that those who spread “rumors” about COVID-19 and Pyongyang’s quarantine policies could face the death penalty.
The notice, dated May 29, 2022, came around two weeks after the country admitted it was facing a COVID-19 outbreak for the first time and described any criticism of the country’s pandemic policy as “anti-state” activities.
“Some [North Korean] residents who are interpreting the Party and government’s anti-epidemic policies in their own way are spreading groundless rumors, disturbing the public sentiment and destroying the political stability of the society,” the decree says, prohibiting activities such as spreading “distorted” information about the spread of “malicious virus,” which is a code phrase for COVID-19 in North Korea.
People are also banned from “spreading how they have interpreted” North Korea’s anti-COVID rules and guidelines “in their own way,” as well as lies about them, it goes on.
“Those who commit especially severe violations of this decree will be subject to harsh punishment up to and including the death penalty, and family members living together with them will be subject to relocation and expulsion.”
The decree came amid heavy state media coverage about COVID-19, quarantine policy and case numbers, as well as claims of victory over the virus as “fever” cases dropped. Analysts told NK Pro at the time that North Korea, which has initiated no known vaccine campaign, was highly unlikely to have stopped COVID-19 completely.
The date on the photo of the rumor decree shows that it was proclaimed the same weekend North Korea lifted a weeks-long COVID-19 lockdown in the capital.
It is unclear whether the proclamation on clamping down against rumors is still being implemented in the country.
But the decree is yet another example of North Korea’s harsh, draconian approach to the pandemic undertaken since early 2020.
NK News had reported on another Ministry of Public Security degree earlier this year that warned of execution for those stealing or tampering with medical supplies. That decree was dated May 14, two days after the first COVID-19 outbreak report in state media.
Experts at the time pointed to mass gatherings in Pyongyang in April – a military parade and related events – as potential superspreader events.
However, three months after North Korea’s first public confirmation of the omicron outbreak in mid-May, Kim Jong Un declared the virus was “eradicated” from the DPRK territory in August.
His sister Kim Yo Jong faulted anti-regime leaflets from South Korea as a cause of North Korea’s outbreak, hinting at how the DPRK leader may have also caught the virus.