It's Kim Jong Un's birthday. Maybe. As with much in North Korea, the exact date of Kim’s birthday remains something shrouded in mystery. The reclusive leader is believed to have been born Jan. 8, but we might never know for sure. And depending on which date you choose to trust, Kim is turning 32, 33 or 34.
Whatever the truth, Kim is the world’s youngest head of state, and also one of its most authoritarian. He’s generally put on low-key birthdays as compared to his predecessors. Aside from a 2014 birthday when Dennis Rodman sang “Happy Birthday” to the North Korean leader during a basketball match in Pyongyang, Kim has at most handed out candy to commemorate the date. Part of that might be to position himself as a humble leader, or it might be the young leader doesn’t want to draw attention to his age, CNN reported last year. He became the country’s supreme leader after his father’s death in late 2011, and has ruled North Korea ever since.
His (probable) birthday comes as North Korea’s celebrating much more than its leader’s birth. North Korea announced Wednesday it successfully tested a hydrogen bomb, raising concern about the country’s plans to build up its nuclear arsenal. World leaders have widely condemned the test. Many doubted the claim, however.
North Korea is among the world’s most authoritarian states. Human rights organizations have repeatedly criticized the family’s dynasty for its rampant human rights abuses. The government is said to maintain secret labor camps for government opponents where torture and starvation are routine. Religion and free speech are virtually nonexistent, and support for leadership is demanded.
The insularity of the country has mystified some of its abuses, and many of the most vile rights violations claims – like feeding an uncle to hungry dogs – remain dubious or unlikely. But some of the likely true rumors include:
1. North Korea’s government has laws about what people can wear. Clothes with English writing, as well as trousers for women, are banned. There’s also a lapel pin with Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il that citizens are expected to wear. Some of the rules related to what individuals can wear have been relaxed in recent years. The Huffington Post said this fact seemed "likely."
2. North Korea has official hairstyle policies. In 2005, North Korean state media showcased official hairstyles, and shamed people who kept their hair long, BBC reported. One state TV channel said long hair harms intelligence and consumes brain energy.
3. Kim Jong Il, the previous leader, reportedly kidnapped a film director. Shin Sang-ok and his wife, an actress, were abducted to help improve North Korea’s film industry. Defectors have testified to the popularity of the couple’s films.
4. Kim Jong Il’s father also had a penchant for Cognac. He is said to have imported some $763,000 worth of the French brandy each year, the Hindustan Times reported.
5. North Korea’s penal system holds entire families responsible for some crimes. Families of individuals convicted and sent to North Korea’s prison camps usually also are sent to work with them during their sentence.