Prominent North Korean defectors

There have been books and documentaries released about North Korean defectors, and some of the more prominent defectors that have gained much publicity are Thae Young-ho, Park Yeon-mi and Park Sang-hak.

  1. Thae Young-ho
Thae Yong-ho appears in a TV broadcast in South Korea. Photograph: Ahn Young-joon/AP

The most recent defection to South Korean was a few days ago by Thae Young-ho, a senior North Korean diplomat based at the North Korean Embassy in London.

Thae was the second-highest official in North Korea’s embassy, and is the most senior North Korean diplomat to defect to South Korea. In 1997, the North Korean ambassador to Egypt fled but resettled in the United States.


2. Park Yeon-mi


Park Yeon-mi (born 4 October 1993) is a North Korean defector and human rights activist who escaped to China in 2007 and settled in South Korea in 2009. She now advocates for victims of trafficking and works to promote human rights in North Korea.

Park received much publicity after delivering a speech at the One Young World 2014 Summit in Dublin, Ireland – an annual summit that gathers young people from around the world to develop solutions to global problems. She has also recently published a memoir in September 2015 titled, “In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom”. 

3. Park Sang-hak

Park Sang-Hak, who heads a group of North Korean defectors, releases a balloon carrying anti-North Korea leaflets at a park in the border town of Paju, north of Seoul, on January 15, 2014. Source: JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images

Park Sang Hak was born in 1968 into the elite of North Korean society. His father was a senior official in the Workers’ Party with responsibility for smuggling computer technology into North Korea from Japan and elsewhere.

Park defected to China across the Yalu River on 9 August 1999 with his mother and two siblings.

After hearing that his uncle was beaten to death for his family’s defection, it galvanized him to start standing up for human rights issues in North Korea.In 2006, Park became the chairman of the Democracy Network against North Korean Gulag, and became the chairman of Fighters for a Free North Korea, known to periodically launch balloons that carry human rights and pro-democracy literature.

In April 2015 Park Sang-hak was detained as protestors clashed with South Korean police over their attempts to airlift thousands of copies of The Interview (2014 film) into North Korea.

Park is referred to as ‘Enemy Zero’ by the Pyongyang regime and has faced death threats and assassination attempts. In September 2011, a North Korean defector was arrested in Seoul my members of the National Intelligence Service (NIS) on his way to meet with Park. South Korean authorities said that he had planned to kill Park by poisoning his drink or jabbing him with a poisoned needle.


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Currently living and pursuing my undergraduate studies in South Korea.

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