Thae Yong Ho was number two in the North Korean embassy in London before defecting with his family last July.
When asked about relatives back in North Korea, Thae’s voice drops. He admits they may be sent to prison camps as punishment for his defection, or may even be used by the regime against him.
He knows he was extremely lucky to have his wife and both children with him in London, and that it’s unlikely to happen to any other diplomat again.
He says North Korean diplomats will remain in place rather than defect because their children are back in Pyongyang. “The children are used by Kim Jong Un as kind of hostage,” he says.
When Thae finally revealed to his wife and sons of his intention to lead them all to safety, he says they were “very grateful.” He says he could not miss the opportunity to “cut off this slavery chain” for his sons, knowing they would never have forgiven him if, in the future, they knew he had not taken the chance for their freedom.
But still defection is bittersweet for Thae Yong Ho. “It made my life very miserable because I spent 50 years of my life on the wrong side.”