Kim Jong-un's wife has now not been seen in public for more than a year – and it could be because of coronavirus, a leading expert has said.
Ri Sol-ju, 32, from Chongjin, in North Korea's northern Hamgyong Province, is believed to have married the supreme leader in 2009.
She last appeared in state media on January 25, 2020, when she joined her dictator husband at a Lunar New Year performance at a theatre in Pyongyang.
The couple were spotted sitting beside Kim’s 74-year-old aunt Kim Kyong-hui, who had been absent from public affairs for more than six years after helping him rise to power.
But her continued absence from the public eye has been noted by experts, with one speculating it could be because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, NK News reports.
Hong Min, director of the North Korean research division at Korea Insitute for National Unification (KINU), said: “[Her disappearance] could be due to Covid-19 … As a mother with young children, participating in public activities risks potential infection.
“Even Kim Jong Un went on the lowest number of on-site guidances in the past year.”
Her unexplained disappearance has previously sparked speculation that she could have been executed by the ruthless dictator.
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Kim Kyong-hui’s husband, Jang Song-thaek, 67, suffered execution in December 2013 once Kim Jong-un replaced his dead father Kim Jong-il, 70, two years earlier.
Little is known about Ri's personal life, but she is believed to be a graduate of Kim II Sung University.
She is also thought to have attended Geomseong Second Middle School in Pyongyang, before “going to China to study singing”, according to South Korean lawmaker Jung Chung-rai and is said to have caught the leader’s eye while she was giving a performance.
Ri is also believed to come from an elite family – being the granddaughter or grandniece of Ri Pyong Chol, the former head of the Korean People’s Army and Air and Anti-Air Forced.
She was officially identified as Kim’s wife in state media in 2012, although it is thought that they wed in 2009.
Ri is also believed to have three children with Kim – but this has never been confirmed by North Korea.
Their first child, reportedly a boy, is thought to have been born in 2010.
Former NBA star Dennis Rodman revealed Ri had given birth to a healthy daughter in 2013.
According to South Korean intelligence, Ri then gave birth to another child in February 2017.
The state media has referred to Ri Sol-ju as the “respected first lady” when she appeared with North Korea’s leader in public in the past.
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