Seoul to award medal to activist arrested in China

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Seoul to award medal to activist arrested in China

The South Korean government will award a medal to a prominent activist who claimed he was tortured by the Chinese government earlier this year for his efforts to promote human rights there, the government said yesterday.

Kim Young-hwan, a 49-year-old activist, has said he was arrested in China in March for helping North Korean defectors there and was tortured by Chinese security officers during his 114-day detention. Beijing flatly denied the accusation.

During a cabinet meeting presided over by President Lee Myung-bak, the government decided to give Kim the Order of Civil Merit “for his contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights in commemoration of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” which falls on Monday.

The government had earlier planned to approve the medal but postponed its decision “to have more time to review relevant matters,” an official at the Ministry of Government Administration and Home Affairs said.

Kim, who now serves as a senior researcher for the Seoul-based civic group Network for North Korean Democracy and Human Rights was a former South Korean proponent of North Korea’s guiding “juche” philosophy of self-reliance.

The cabinet also approved a revision to ban smoking in all of the country’s restaurants and other indoor public facilities for food and beverage larger than 150 square meters (1,614 square feet) as part of efforts to promote public health. Under the law, which is set to go into effect on Saturday, about 76,000 facilities of that size, such as restaurants, cafes and bakeries, will be required to designate all their indoor space as a nonsmoking zone, and set up a separate room for smokers.

Any shop owners who violate the rule will face a fine of up to 5 million won ($4,617), and customers of up to 100,000 won, according to the government.

In a separate bill, the government decided to extend the scope of facilities banned alongside the country’s four major rivers - the Han, Nakdong, Geum and Yeongsan - as a follow-up to the refurbishment project.

South Korea has been working on the project to develop the nation’s four rivers since 2008 upon the inauguration of President Lee Myung-bak in an aim to prevent floods and enhance water quality.

Under the revision, multiplex houses, religious facilities and factories are not allowed to be built along the rivers.

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