North Korea's first lady Ri Sol-ju remains a mystery

In the six years since Kim Jong Un began ruling North Korea, information about the nation’s first lady is as elusive as her husband is provocative.

Part of the reason for the mystery around Comrade Ri Sol-ju is because she is rarely seen in public, with her most recent public appearance being last month.

“North Korea never goes out of its way to clarify for the rest of the world the titles, roles and responsibilities of anyone in North Korea. It considers confusing the rest of the world to be an important element of its security strategy,” Eric Foley, CEO and co-founder of the Voice of the Martyrs Korea, told Fox News. “Regime watchers are always left piecing clues together about who is in charge of what, and why, and for how long.”

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (front) and his wife Ri Sol-ju (2nd L) look on during a visit to Unit 1017 of the Korean People's Army (KPA) Air and Anti-Air Force, honoured with the title of O Jung Hup-led 7th Regiment, in this undated picture released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on June 21, 2013.     REUTERS/KCNA    (NORTH KOREA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY TRANSPORT TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS - GM1E96L0LMU01

The marriage of the North Korean dictator was only revealed in 2012. It is believed they tied the knot in either 2009 or 2010.  (REUTERS)

Another part of the reason for the mystery is that secrecy is a government strategy.

North Korea views “information as power and a weapon that can be used against them. The less information the world has, the more they feel protected,” said Harry Kazianis, director of Defense Studies at the Center for the National Interest.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un waves upon his arrival with his wife Ri Sol-ju for a performance given by the Song and Dance Ensemble of the Korean People's Internal Security Forces (KPISF)  in Pyongyang, in this picture released by North Korea's KCNA news agency May 13, 2013. REUTERS/KCNA (NORTH KOREA - Tags: POLITICS) ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS - GM1E95D1KE601

 (REUTERS)

Ri was identified as Kim’s wife in 2012, and it is likely the couple married secretly in 2009 or 2010. South Korean intelligence reports that the real name of Ri, sometimes called Lee Seol-ju, is Hyon Song-wol and that she is a former singer in a pop group.

Ri reportedly was born into a prestigious family – her mother a doctor and her father a prominent professor. Prior to tying the knot with Kim, she is believed to have studied singing in China and traveled to South Korea in 2005 as part of a cheerleading squad.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, together with his wife Ri Sol Ju (L), gives field guidance at the newly built Mirae Shop and Health Complex in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on March 28, 2016. REUTERS/KCNA ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA - GF10000362628

Kim Jong-un accompanied by his wife Ri Sol Ju inspecting the newly built Mirae Shop in Pyongyang on an unknown date.

The couple are thought to have three children, likely born in 2010, 2013 and a third within the last couple of years. There is some speculation she may have been coerced into the third in the hopes she would give birth to a boy, a heir to the dictator’s throne.

The existence of the children or their genders have never been verified by the state media, but former NBA player Dennis Rodman said in 2013 after returning from the Hermit Kingdom that he held the couple’s then-baby daughter, Ju-ae, and praised the dictator as “a good dad.”

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his wife Ri Sol Ju watch a performance by the Moranbong Band at the April 25 House of Culture in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on March 24, 2014. REUTERS/KCNA (NORTH KOREA - Tags: POLITICS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) 

ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA - GM1EA3O0LS301

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his wife Ri Sol Ju watch a performance by the Moranbong Band in March, 2016. She is known to disappear from the public eye for months at a time.  (REUTERS)

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According to Foley, hiding any information about the children – and even any pregnancy appearances by the first lady – allows “the dynasty to select whichever child Kim wants as a successor.”

“If the regime confirms first ladies, it would have to explain why Kim Jong Un’s mother was not Kim Jong’s Il’s wife but one of his consorts, and why more legitimate heirs were passed up,” he said.

Kim’s father, known to have multiple wives and consorts, never introduced any of them to the public. While his son’s family life, too, is shrouded in obscurity, Sol-ju’s occasional step out into the spotlight is a sign that the regime is purporting to appeal to a more modern and millennial base.

“She seems to play a ceremonial role, attending some events in an effort to show the North Korean people and the outside world a softer side,” said Kazianis.

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North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (R) applauds with his wife Ri Sol-Ju (L) during a demonstration performance by the newly formed Moranbong band in Pyongyang in this undated picture released by the KCNA July 9, 2012. North Korea's new young leader, Kim Jong-un, is married, state media said on July 25, 2012, putting an end to speculation over the relationship with a woman seen at his side during recent events.     REUTERS/KCNA  (NORTH KOREA - Tags: POLITICS SOCIETY) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS - GM1E87Q0XWC01

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un with his wife Ri Sol Ju  (REUTERS)

Most of Ri’s public appearance have been with her husband at military functions.

“First lady Ri seems to have been portrayed as offering guidance – not to her husband, of course, but to the factory workers. It is rare for anyone other than Kim Jong Un, or Kim Jong Il or Kim Il Sung before him, to publicly offer guidance to anyone,” Foley said. “Even at the highest level, most trusted people are rarely ever shown doing that. So this certainly shows a high level of official trust in her. It also suggests an effort to bolster and soften the public positioning of the Pyongyang line to have him visit a cosmetics factory, and have them both appearing to offer guidance to the workers.”

Women in North Korea are said to be encouraged to emulate Ri’s hairstyle and fashion, which is mostly centered on tailored, pastel-colored suit dresses. Given North Korea’s acute and chronic poverty there was some criticism – especially in Ri’s early years as first lady – for her preference for upscale western attire as she had been seen cradling a Chanel or Dior handbag.

And while analysts expect to see Ri saunter in front of the lens on the odd occasion, especially during times of heavy criticism over the regime’s growing nuclear program, little is likely to be leaked out about the first family anytime soon.

Hollie McKay has been a FoxNews.com staff reporter since 2007. She has reported extensively from the Middle East on the rise and fall of terrorist groups such as ISIS in Iraq. Follow her on twitter at @holliesmckay