중앙데일리

High-profile defector granted right to leave

Jan 29,2008
Ending a five-year fight, the Supreme Court ruled yesterday that a high-profile North Korean defector can have a passport to travel overseas, despite the Foreign Ministry’s efforts to keep him here.
Upholding a lower court’s ruling, the nation’s highest court said yesterday that Kim Tok-hong’s right to freely travel outside South Korea should not be limited just because he is a high-profile defector.
The Foreign Ministry has said it could not guarantee Kim’s safety if he left the country. In addition, the Roh Moo-hyun administration has made many efforts to placate North Korea.
Kim, a fierce critic of his homeland, sought to get a passport in 2003, when he was invited to come to the United States by human rights groups.
With the ruling, a Foreign Ministry official said yesterday the ministry will issue him a passport as soon as he applies.
Kim defected to the South in February 1997. At the time, Kim had been president of North Korea’s Yogwang General Trading Company and deputy chief of the office of documents of the Central Committee of the Workers Party. Kim defected with Hwang Jang-yop, who used to be secretary of the Workers Party in charge of international affairs and the architect of the North’s Juche, or self-reliance, ideology. Hwang is the highest-ranking North Korean ever to defect to the South.
In 2003, the Hudson Institute and Defense Forum Foundation invited Kim to visit the United States, but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade held onto his passport application until June 2004. In 2005, Kim filed a suit against the ministry, urging it to make a decision.
Kim won the case, but the answer was “no.” The Foreign Ministry cited risks to Kim’s personal safety, noting he was being guarded by the police around the clock and that there had been threats to harm him.
Kim challenged the decision, filing another lawsuit, this time demanding a passport. He lost the initial trial, but an appeals court ruled in favor of him. The ministry then took the case to the Supreme Court.
“Just because Kim is a defector and there are unspecified risks to his personal safety, the ministry must not limit his right to freely travel overseas,” the Supreme Court ruled yesterday. “Even if his personal safety is put at risk during his visit to the United States, there is a low possibility that Korea’s reputation will drop or the incident will hinder Seoul’s policies toward Pyongyang.”
The court also cited other precedents. “A significant number of defectors have already testified about North Korea while staying in the United States, but there was no information they were terrorized. Taking into account the public safety situation in the United States and its recent relations with the two Koreas, there is a low possibility that Kim will face an act of terror during his U.S. trip.”


By Ser Myo-ja Staff Reporter [myoja@joongnag.co.kr]


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