More than seven months after her last public appearance, fresh questions are being asked about the identity and whereabouts of the wife of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Ri Sol-ju was last seen in public March 28 and her absence from Kim’s side has led to speculation over whether she is pregnant or if there has been a serious falling out with the North Korean dictator.
Given that in 2013 Kim had his uncle executed, there is understandable concern.
Like much of life in the Communist nation, Ri has always had something of a shroud of mystery over her. But here’s what we do know so far.
Ri first appeared by Kim’s side in 2012, sparking immediate rumors about her identity. Only later did North Korean state media release her name and confirm that she was, in fact, Kim’s wife, although no date for their wedding was ever provided. South Korean media has claimed that Ri, thought to be 27 at the time, was a former member of the country’s Unhasu orchestra and had performed for Kim in 2010. Other reports claimed that her family was in the country’s political elite, with her mother the head of a gynecology department at a local hospital. Ri was said to be a science graduate student.
Kim’s appearances with his wife were a break from tradition – neither his father Kim Jong Il nor his grandfather Kim Il-sung were ever pictured with their significant others in public. She made numerous outings with her husband in subsequent years, appearing alongside him 18 times in 2012, 22 times in 2013 and 15 times in 2014, reports the Yonhap News Agency. But those figures have decreased sharply since. The sighting of her alongside Kim at a satellite launch in Pyongyang in February was the first time she had been seen in public in four months.
At Least One Child
According to reports in South Korea, Ri gave birth to a baby girl in 2013. That same year, former NBA star Dennis Rodman returned from a trip to North Korea and said that the girl’s name was Ju-ae, adding that Kim was a “good dad.” In 2014 it was rumored that Ri was expecting a second child after photos emerged showing her wearing loose-fitting clothes. Although that has never been confirmed, Kim is said to want a male heir to continue the Kim dynasty that has ruled the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea since Korea was officially split into two states in 1948.
Is Kim’s Sister Involved?
While it may well be that Ri’s absence from the limelight is due to pregnancy, another rumor is that she has fallen foul of Kim’s sister. Kim Yeo-jong is thought to wield significant power and influence as a vice director in the Workers Party’s Central Committee. In September, it was reported that she was responsible for sending several high-ranking officials for re-education.