Court awards $111,000 to defectors outed by gov’t

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Court awards $111,000 to defectors outed by gov’t

The Seoul High Court ruled in favor of five North Korean defectors yesterday, ordering the government to pay them 120 million won ($111,000) for disclosing their identities and endangering their families in the North.

Lee Gwang-su, 42, three family members and a friend who defected together in 2006, had sued the government for 1.15 billion won in 2008 and a lower court last year awarded them 55 million won.

“The government claims that the personal information and their escape route was made known to respect the people’s right to know, but when considering the special situation of North Korea, the need to respect requests for privacy is greater than the media’s freedom or the people’s right to know,” said the high court yesterday.

The group’s story dates to March 2006 when Lee escaped North Korea with his wife, their two sons and a close friend, Kim Jong-chol, on a small, wooden boat. The boat was carried by the tides and discovered by a South Korean soldier after washing up in Gangwon.

Lee told authorities he and his family had been planning to row to the U.S. to request exile there.

He specifically requested South Korean authorities not publicize their landing in South Korea and to let the group continue on to the United States.

However, the South Korean media was informed of the group’s arrival, the articles published afterward included Lee’s family name and the duration of his service in the North Korean military. Lee and Kim’s occupations were also disclosed.

Lee’s pleas to be sent to the United States were ignored and the group was enrolled in Hanawon, the resettlement agency for defectors, where he learned from sources that 26 of Lee’s and Kim’s relatives had gone missing, most likely seized by North Korean authorities as punishment for Lee’s defection.

After leaving Hanawon, Lee went to the United Kingdom in March 2007 and requested exile. In the U.K., he told his story to Amnesty International, which published it in a report that year.

While his exile papers were being processed, Lee was arrested and sent back to South Korea in March 2008, which he says was orchestrated by the South Korean government.

Lee went to court two months later and demanded the South Korean government pay the group 1.15 billion won.

After filing the suit, he flew to Canada and crossed the border to the U.S. in October 2008 and requested exile. Lee’s plea was accepted by the U.S. in April 2009, but all five are still in Korea.


By Christine Kim [christine.kim@joongang.co.kr]

한글 관련 기사 [연합]
탈북자 신상노출 1억2천만원 국가가 배상
서울고법 '신변보호가 알권리보다 우선'…1심보다 배상금 올려
서울고법 민사5부(노태악 부장판사)는 19일 이광수씨 등 탈북자 5명이 신상 노출로 북한에 남은 가족이 위험에 처하게 됐다며 국가를 상대로 제기한 손해배상 청구소송에서 1억2천만원을 지급하라고 판결했다.

재판부는 "국가는 탈북자의 인적사항이나 탈출 경위가 보도된 게 국민의 알 권리를 충족하려는 것이라고 주장하지만 북한의 특수한 사정 등을 고려하면 신변보호 요청에 응할 필요성이 언론ㆍ출판의 자유나 국민의 알권리보다 우선한다"고 밝혔다.

재판부는 1심보다 배상액을 더 높인 이유에 대해 "이씨 등이 당한 정신적 고통과 국가의 주의 의무 위반 정도, 북한에 남은 가족의 위해가능성 정도 등을 고려하면 1심이 지급을 명한 액수는 지나치게 적다"고 설명했다.

이씨 등은 2006년 배를 타고 북한을 탈출했고 강원도의 초병에게 발견돼 군과 국가정보원, 경찰 등으로 구성된 합동신문기관의 조사를 받았으며 당시 탈북 사실과 인적사항을 비공개로 해달라고 요청했다.


하지만 이들이 귀순한 사실이 언론에 보도됐고 일부 매체는 북한에서의 이력을 함께 밝혀 인적사항이 특정될 수 있게 했다.

이에 이씨 등은 북한의 가족이 위협당할 수 있다는 점 때문에 정신적 고통을 당했다며 국가를 상대로 소송을 냈고 '북한에 남은 부모와 형제, 친척 등 26명이 실종됐는데 북한 정권에 의해 처형되거나 수용소에 갇힌 것으로 추정된다'고 주장했다.

1심은 '가족이나 친척이 원고가 주장하는 피해를 봤다고 인정할 증거가 없다'고 판단했으며 정보 유출에 따른 정신적 고통만 인정해 5천500만원을 배상하라며 원고 일부 승소 판결했다.

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