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Moon’s vow to protect defectors is met with ire

Nov 22,2019
Seoul’s recent deportation of two North Korean fishermen who fled to the South after allegedly murdering 16 fellow crewmen on a squid boat instantly ignited a wave of criticism from North Korean defectors and human rights groups, who claimed Seoul broke South Korean law by not treating them as if they were South Korean citizens.

Under South Korean law, North Korean defectors are automatically given South Korean citizenship once they arrive in the South, and are still considered South Korean citizens even if they re-enter the North.

The two North Korean fishermen expressed their intent to defect to the South, but Seoul determined they could pose a serious threat to the South Korean people’s lives and safety and chose to instead return them to the North, where their fate was likely execution. North Korea enforces the death penalty for felony murder charges under Article 266 of its criminal law code.

During a town hall meeting with the public on Tuesday night in western Seoul, President Moon Jae-in promised he and his government will work toward embracing North Korean defectors “like our own people.”

But his vow did little to placate the over 30,000 North Korean defectors in the nation. “It’s hard to believe two men murdered 16 people,” said Kim Yong-hwa, head of the NK Refugees Human Rights Association of Korea, who formerly served 18 years as a North Korean military officer and policeman before defecting to the South.

“There are many maritime accidents in the North plus the possibility that people can defect, so when nine or more people get on a boat, a person from the State Security Ministry always tags along,” said Kim. “Say that the two men did really murder 16 other people. Then the South Korean [government] should reveal why they killed them and how they defected to the South, but it didn’t explain any of that.”

Kim also blamed the Moon administration for the recent death of a North Korean mother and her 6-year-old son, who are believed to have died of starvation in their small apartment in Seoul. “A mother and son who defected from North Korea starved to death, and then there was the deportation of the two fishermen. [North Koreans] are now thinking, ‘I shouldn’t defect.’”

Hong Soon-kyung, honorary chairman of the board of directors at the Committee for the Democratization of North Korea, said it was “a common trick” of Pyongyang to accuse North Korean defectors of heinous crimes.

When she escaped her homeland in 1999 and arrived at a Thai Embassy in a third country, Hong said the regime accused her of embezzling state funds and selling drugs to Russia.

“Luckily, the Thai government verified it was false, and I was able to come to South Korea,” said Hong. “If North Korean defectors are South Korean citizens, then even if they do commit a crime, they have the right to go through a formal trial in South Korea. How can the South just send them back to the North?”

Yoo Ho-yeol, a professor of North Korean studies at Korea University, agreed with Hong, saying Seoul should’ve given them a chance to receive the same legal services as South Koreans. “The government must guarantee the rights of North Korean defectors. That hope is what encourages North Koreans to defect,” Yoo said.

BY LEE TAE-YUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]


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