The Assembly must wake up

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The Assembly must wake up

It is shameful that Kim Young-hwan, a South Korean activist who returned home traumatized and wounded from being held in China, is hardly receiving sympathy from his government and legislature. Kim, who was released last month from Chinese custody, claimed that he was brutally treated during his 114 days in detention in China with electric-shock torture and sleep deprivation. He showed burns in more than 500 spots on his body.

Such brutal treatment of a South Korean civilian should seriously strain the country’s 20-year diplomatic relationship with China. We should condemn any inhuman acts committed against our people and be enraged that China was audacious enough to violate the human rights of our citizens.

No government should allow it. Yet ours is strangely quiet and looking the other way. The ruling Saenuri Party planned to call for an extraordinary meeting of the Foreign Affairs, Trade and Unification Committee to investigate the matter but later canceled it, saying the opposition failed to respond to the call. It may all have been a gesture to avoid public criticism. The main opposition Democratic United Party, which usually is outspoken on human rights, is nowhere to be seen. Its leader Lee Hae-chan, who fought against the dictatorial rule and infringement of human rights, remains mum.

A group of legislators who are members of a forum on human rights invited Kim to hear his testimony. Despite a roomful of journalists, only seven first-time legislators listened to Kim speak.

Last spring, the U.S. Congress held a televised hearing to demand the release of Chen Guangcheng, a blind Chinese human rights activist who was jailed and confined to his home after exposing abuses from Chinese policies. Thanks to the U.S. rally, Chen was able to make a dramatic escape and seek freedom. American lawmakers demonstrated that human rights are a common value that have no limits to their defense and protection. Yet our lawmakers fail to question and investigate an ordeal our own civilian went through on foreign soil.

There are some 800,000 Korean nationals residing in China and 625 are in custody. Koreans hold the largest foreign presence in China. If the legislature does not set an example with Kim’s case, we may see more victims of abuse. When the National Assembly reopens this month, it should do some work that can actually help and comfort the lives of our civilians.

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