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North Korean first lady disappears: what could have happened to Ri Sol-ju?

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Manish Saini
Manish works as a Journalist and writer at Revyuh.com. He has studied Political Science and graduated from Delhi University. He is a Political engineer, fascinated by politics, and traditional businesses. He is also attached to many NGO's in the country and helping poor children to get the basic education. Email: Manish (at) revyuh (dot) com

The wife of the Supreme Leader of North Korea, Ri Sol-ju, has not been seen in public for more than a year. What could have happened to the first lady of the hermetic country?

The woman last appeared in the company of her husband at a Lunar New Year concert at the Samjiyon Theater in Pyongyang on January 25, 2020.

The woman last appeared with her husband at a Lunar New Year concert at the Samjiyon Theatre in Pyongyang on January 25, 2020.

Ri’s long absence led to speculation about her health and possible imprisonment or execution. Although it is not the first time that the first lady has disappeared from the public eye.

The director of the North Korean research division at the Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU), Hong Min, told NK News that the disappearance could be due to the pandemic. 

“As a mother with young children, participating in public activities means that you are more likely to become infected,” said the expert, adding that Kim Jong-un himself also attended fewer events in 2020.

The specialist suggested that Ri’s absence also has something to do with “a change in the foreign affairs situation.” “When there were multiple summits with other countries, Ri’s role – a universally expected role as first lady – was on the rise. But now, diplomacy has stalled,” Min said.

North Korean professor Lim Eul-chul, from Kyungnam University, is convinced that Kim Jong-un no longer cares about looking like a “normal world leader” who brings his wife to events, “but now, for Pyongyang, economic problems and real achievements — not formalities or image — are most important and urgent”.

North Korean media first introduced the North Korean first lady in July 2012. Since then, the woman has attended more than a hundred public events. In particular, she accompanied her husband on his visit to China in March 2018 and second meeting with Xi Jinping held in Pyongyang in June 2019. 

However, the private life of Kim Jong-un’s wife is kept secret. His family is believed to belong to the country’s political elite: his father is allegedly the commander of the Korean People’s Army’s Air and Anti-aircraft Forces. 

As for Ri herself, she reportedly studied vocal music in China and was a member of the musical group Orquesta U’nhasu before marrying Kim in 2009. The couple are believed to have three children.

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