North Korean diplomat defected because of ‘reign of terror’
A high-ranking North Korea official who fled the country in August 2016 told South Korean lawmakers that he defected because of his disillusionment with life in Kim Jong Un’s regime, according to media reports.
Thae Yong Ho, former deputy ambassador to Britain, told members of the South Korean parliament intelligence committee in December 2016 that North Korea was suffering a “tyrannical reign of terror,” under Kim Jong Un, according to South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency. He said many people were in essence living in “slavery,” BBC News reported.
Thae told South Korean politician Lee Cheol-Woo, chairman of the intelligence committee, “There are many ranking North Korean officials suffering from depression over concerns they will have to live like slaves for a long time if the North’s young leader rules the country for decades,” the BBC reported. (Thae is pictured above on store TV sets broadcasting a news report of his defection in August 2016.)
Thae also refuted the regime’s allegations against him that he fled out of fear of punishment for crimes he committed, Reuters reported. Thae said he anticipated such charges and kept photographic records of embassy finances to support his claims.
When he defected in August 2016, he became the highest-ranking diplomat to do so. When he fled, North Korean media attempted to falsely malign him by accusing him of espionage, embezzlement, and child rape and calling him “human scum,” the BBC reported.
Ironically, Thae decided to defect in large part because his superiors pressured him to bribe a United Kingdom defense official or military officer to steal nuclear secrets for North Korea, according to an account in The Sunday Express newspaper.
Thae said he learned about South Korean democracy from South Korean TV shows and movies, The Associated Press reported.
Every year about 1,000 people defect from North Korea, with an increasing number of them coming from advantaged backgrounds, Yonhap News reported.
Thae defected with his wife and two sons and will remain under tight security, Reuters reported.