Exclusive: Highest-Ranking North Korean Defector Speaks Out


The video, first presented at the Oslo Freedom Forum in Norway to a private audience, was released online today.

“To resolve the human rights violations in North Korea there is no other way than to […] disseminate external information into North Korea to educate the North Korean people," said Thae Yong-ho in the video statement. "The North Korean regime is trying its best to block external information, so that its residents cannot compare their living standards with others’ [living standards]. But control of the residents has been collapsing due to information seeping in. […] Vaguely wishing for a change by the Kim Jong-un regime cannot effect any change. Now, it’s time for action.”

Thae, who made a daring escape last year from North Korea’s embassy in London, is the highest-ranking diplomat to ever defect from the Kim regime. In this video testimony, Thae talks about why he chose to defect, explains how he and his family were able to escape to South Korea, assesses the fragility of the Kim regime, and makes the case for why outside information is the single best tool for the world to use to work toward a free North Korea.

“As a former North Korean diplomat, Mr. Thae is highly familiar with the inner workings of Kim Jong-un’s totalitarian regime,” said HRF President Thor Halvorssen. “World decision-makers would be wise to listen to his advice as they grapple with the nuclear-armed police state. Information dissemination is an effective third way beyond ineffective diplomacy and risky military action.”

Thae originally planned to attend the Oslo Freedom Forum in person, but after Kim Jong-un assassinated his own older brother with nerve gas in the Kuala Lumpur airport, Thae — a high level target — was forced to become more secretive about his location. Thae’s recommendation of outside information is in line with recent suggestions from several other experts, including Oxford scholar and "North Korea's Hidden Revolution" author Jieun Baek; former Chair of the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the DPRK Michael Kirby; former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Tom Malinowski; and former NSC Director for Asian Affairs Victor Cha.

In Feburary 2016, HRF launched Flash Drives for Freedom, a campaign to collect flash drives to send into North Korea, packed with outside information. The campaign has been featured in CNN, MSNBC, NPR, BBC, The Guardian, WIRED, The Economist, The Global and Mail, and Reason TV. More than 100,000 flash drives have been collected for distribution into North Korea. Watch a short video about the program here.

The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies. HRF has worked with North Korean defectors and refugees to promote human rights inside North Korea and raise global awareness of the country's human rights crisis since 2009.

For press inquiries, contact Prachi Vidwans at (212) 246-8486 or prachi@hrf.org.

Comments (3)
No. 1-3

The government is now forcing DRM onto your device.


Really hope the flash drives are successful to both stop the war and free the people, kim jong un have ramped up its censorship on its computer operating system named "red star" equipped with "government DRM" (DRM means digital rights management: a technological control on the use of a device) on version 3.0 that takes the sony rootkit to a whole new level, it spies on you on every action, and deletes files that the government doesn't like: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Star_OS#Version_3.0 If the software detects you on trying to remove the DRM, the OS will either restart or render itself permanently unusable (bricked). Note that one of the news even mentioned that previous versions may have a mandatory update in order to use the operating system, so completely avoid using red star OS, its basically a government's camera staring you in the face.

In order for this to be successful, the north koreans must use any device that wasn't "DRM"-ed and can read the flash drives. In my opinion, I recommend not having ANY wifi connections on (or devices that don't have such a connection), as the government could plan out a way to infect devices with DRM when connecting to the network. Pray to god that China won't enforce north korea's censorship (Russia copied China's anti-vpn practices) and close their border with north korea.

Oslo Freedom Forum