North Korea is recalling diplomats and their dependents overseas to undergo “ideological examinations” in an effort to avoid another embarrassing defection, according to dissident media.
“The Ministry of State Security was ordered to conduct comprehensive ideological examinations of diplomats and their families after they returned to North Korea”, a source in Pyongyang told the Seoul-based Daily NK news site.
The source – who was not identified, to protect him or her from retribution from the North Korean authorities – said the examinations started on February 11 and were due to last for three months.
The diplomats and members of their families have been isolated from each other and are being quizzed about their activities overseas and undergoing “intensive ideological education” at the hands of officials from the Ministry of State Security’s Political Department, the Organisation and Guidance Department, the Propaganda and Agitation Department, the Overseas Anti-Espionage Department and the Workers’ Party.
The examinations are being conducted repeatedly, another source said, in order to identify inconsistencies in the information provided by the diplomats and their families.
Pyongyang has reacted in the wake of the disappearance of Jo Song-gil, the 48-year-old acting ambassador to Rome, who fled the embassy in November with his wife. It has been reported that the couple’s daughter, who was attending a high school in Rome, was seized by North Korean agents and forcibly repatriated to the North before she could meet up with her parents.
The whereabouts of Mr Jo and his wife are presently unknown, although it is likely that he is being sheltered by Western intelligence agencies and quizzed about the stability and intentions of the North Korean regime.
Thae Yong-ho, the deputy head of the North Korean embassy in London until his defection in 2016, called on his compatriot to join him in Seoul and to work to bring down the regime of Kim Jong-un, although he changed tack after it became apparent that Mr Jo’s daughter was effectively being held hostage in the North.
There have been a number of high-profile defections among the most trusted members of North Korean society in recent years, suggesting that even the elite recognise that the regime is tainted and crumbling. Through “ideological examinations”, Mr Kim is apparently aiming to halt further implicit criticisms of his rule.