- Kim Jae-joong is under investigation for claiming he had Covid-19 and was in hospital in an online April Fool's joke
- He later said he did it to raise awareness, but could face a large fine or a prison sentence for spreading false information
A K-pop star who claimed he had contracted the novel coronavirus but later said it was an April Fool's Day prank is under investigation and could face up to five years in prison or a fine of 10 million won (US$8,100).
A representative of the Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention " which is leading South Korea's fight against the coronavirus outbreak " said it was investigating Kim Jae-joong, a former member of boy band TVXQ and current member of the duo JYJ.
The organisation said Kim's case "involves the spreading of false information, so we're discussing how exactly the punishment will be carried out".
"It's possible to punish those who are reported for inciting disorder by continually making malicious prank phone calls to the epidemic prevention authorities, however this case is something done by a celebrity on social media, so more internal discussion is required."
On Wednesday, Kim announced to his 1.9 million Instagram followers in Korean that "I've been infected with Covid-19. This was all due to my carelessness, for ignoring the advice provided by the government and all those around me. It's a wonder how significantly one person's actions can affect the greater society. I am apologetic toward those who may have also been inflicted with the virus because of me … I am being hospitalised."
However, in another post an hour later, Kim revealed the announcement was an April Fool's prank allegedly aimed at raising awareness about the dangers of the coronavirus.
"To have someone you love or someone precious to you be infected with a virus is a heartbreaking thing. Despite that fact, there are so many people who are still roaming the streets, acting as if it won't ever happen to them. Many of my acquaintances and staff are also seeing their loved ones testing positive for the virus … Although this prank went quite far for a simple April Fool's joke, many people still became worried about me in a short period.
"This is definitely not something that only happens to other people. I wanted to tell everyone that protecting yourself is also the solution to protecting others. I will receive all punishment that I am due for this post. I hope you will all stay healthy."
Both posts were deleted from Kim's Instagram page after he faced a backlash on social media, with many of his followers accusing him of being insensitive as South Korea struggles to contain the country's coronavirus outbreak. A petition has been submitted to the presidential Blue House's website titled "Please punish celebrity Kim for his April Fool's Day prank".
Under South Korean law, deceiving a government employee or institution and obstructing them in their duties can result in a jail term of five years or a maximum fine of 10 million won.
South Korea and its K-pop industry have been hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak, with the country reporting almost 10,000 cases and 165 deaths, and hugely popular acts such as BTS and Twice cancelling concerts around the world.
Kim has been active in the K-pop industry for more than 15 years. After he made his debut with TVXQ in 2003, he has released several solo albums, branched out into TV acting, and remains a member of the duo JYJ alongside Kim Jun-su.
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