Along with the rest of the world, North Koreans are wondering why North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s wife, Ri Sol Ju, has not been seen in public for almost nine months, Daily NK has learned.

After her appearance at a Lunar New Year performance with her husband at Pyongyang’s Samjiyon Theater in January, she has not been seen in public. Ri did not attend the military parade held at Kim Il Sung Square on Oct. 10, either.

A Daily NK source speaking on condition of anonymity reported yesterday that there are broadly three “rumors” spreading through North Korean society about her disappearance from the public scene.

THE FIRST…

The first rumor suggests that she is caring for Kim Kyung Hee, Kim Jong Il’s younger sister, because Kim is in ill health. This rumor is the most prevalent in the society given that it has been spread by people with “quick access to information” (nicknamed “TASS,” after the Russian news agency).

The rumor is based on speculation that Kim Jong Un’s “affection” for his aunt grew after the execution of her husband, Jang Song Taek, and that he is treating her as a “family elder” who, given her advanced age, is being “specially cared for.”

THE SECOND…

The second rumor involves Ri’s efforts to educate her daughter, who was reportedly born in early 2013 and who is named “Ju-ae” – at least according to retired American basketball player Dennis Rodman, who visited the country around that time.

This rumor suggests that Ri is in the midst of caring for an elementary school-aged daughter (in the first or second grade). This would only be true, however, if Ju-ae started school normally like other children.

Kim Jong Un with his wife, Ri Sol Ju, during a visit to China to visit Xi Jin Ping in Mar. 2018. / Image: CCTV image capture

Some North Koreans reportedly believe that Ri, as Ju-ae’s mother, would naturally manage her daughter’s education-related activities, including those activities that focus on her role as the daughter of the country’s leader.

AND, THE THIRD…

A final rumor in the country about Ri’s absence suggests that she is suffering from some kind of health issue given that she has not been seen in public for nine months nor has she attended important national events.

This rumor suggests that Ri is, in fact, busy taking care of Kim Kyung Hee at a special hospital and she is managing her daughter’s educational activities, but that these activities alone do not explain why she has not been seen at all for almost a year.

In South Korea, meanwhile, North Korea experts suggest that Ri’s disappearance is likely due to the spread of COVID-19 given that her last public appearance occurred right before the pandemic went into full-swing.

These experts suggest that she has avoided attending any public events over concern that many people do not wear masks properly during mass gatherings and that this could risk the health of her children.

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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Kang Mi Jin
Kang Mi Jin is a North Korean defector turned journalist who fled North Korea in 2009. She has a degree in economics and writes largely on marketization and economy-related issues for Daily NK. Questions about her articles can be directed to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.