Photo: Thae Yong-ho. Credit: People Power Party.
Conservative legislator and North Korean defector Thae Yong-ho 태영호 stirred controversy by linking victims of the Jeju Massacre to North Korea. Over the course of the Jeju Massacre of 1947 to 1949, also known as the April 3 Incident 4.3 사건, the Syngman Rhee 이승만 regime murdered as many as 30k civilians, or 10% of the population of the southern island of Jeju-do, on suspicion of being communists or communist sympathizers. (See previous coverage, “Remembering the Jeju Massacre.”)
Thae, previously a high-ranking North Korean diplomat who defected in 2016 while stationed in London, is a high-profile Assembly Member of the People Power Party 국민의힘. During a visit to the Jeju Massacre memorial on February 13, Thae issued a press release stating the Jeju Massacre was “instigated by a decision from [North Korean dictator] Kim Il-sung 김일성”. While the Jeju Massacre did involve communist guerrillas from South Korea, there is no evidence of North Korean involvement.
When confronted by criticism over his allegations, Thae continued to insist that he had learned in North Korea that Kim Il-sung ordered the communist insurrection in Jeju. Prominent journalist Ju Seong-ha 주성하, also a North Korean defector and graduate of Kim Il-sung University, noted that the Jeju Massacre is not covered in North Korea’s regular curriculum, and surmised that Thae likely picked up his knowledge from propaganda materials that are not available to the general public.
On February 15, the opposition Democratic Party 민주당 referred Thae to the National Assembly’s Ethics Committee 국회 윤리위원회 and demanded that Thae resign. Jeju-do Province Governor O Yeong-hun 오영훈 제주도 지사, a Democrat, criticized Thae’s statement as “a McCarthyist lie.” Heo Yong-jin, PPP’s top official for Jeju-do Province 허용진 국민의힘 제주도당 위원장, also demanded that his party “take a stern response against Assembly Member Thae’s incorrect and inappropriate remarks.”