Evidence in spy case thrown outA local court has acquitted a suspected North Korean spy by ruling almost all evidence inadmissible, creating a major challenge to the law enforcement authorities’ practice of interrogating espionage suspects.
The Seoul Central District Court found the suspect, who was accused of infiltrating into South Korea by posing as a defector, not guilty of espionage charges under the National Security Law, questioning the admissibility of the evidence presented by the prosecution, National Intelligence Service and police.
The 40-year-old man, only identified by the family name Hong, was indicted in March.
The Seoul Central District Prosecutors Office said Hong was selected as an agent by the North’s Army’s Defense Security Command in March 2012 and received one month of training. He was suspected of entering the South in August 2013 by posing as a defector.
After the National Intelligence Service became suspicious about his identity, Hong was detained and questioned before indictment.
The Seoul Central District Court, however, ruled Friday that a series of interrogations submitted by the National Intelligence Service, police and prosecutors as well as Hong’s own statements were inadmissible.
The court said that after an initial questioning by law enforcement authorities, Hong was suspected of National Security Law violations but he was not properly notified of his rights.
Because the law enforcement authorities did not give proper Miranda warnings to Hong, including his right to an attorney and right to refuse any statement, all the evidence was inadmissible, the court said.
The court also said Hong was detained without a warrant for 135 days.
A total of 12 statements created after the National Intelligence Service interrogated Hong were ruled inadmissible as well as seven out of eight probe reports by the prosecution. The prosecution conducted eight interrogation sessions with Hong but recorded only one. The court accepted only the recorded session as evidence admissible in the trial.
Hong’s own confessions were also rejected because the court ruled that they were written under psychological pressure. The statements were made before Hong was represented by lawyers.
Testimony from a witness who claimed he had heard from his in-law that Hong was a spy was also thrown out because it was hearsay.
Hong and his lawyers argued during the trial that the National Intelligence Service and law enforcement authorities failed to properly notify the suspect of his rights in detail, taking into account his understanding of the South Korean justice system. The court accepted their argument by finding the prosecution’s evidence inadmissible.
Shortly after the ruling, the prosecution criticized the court’s ruling and filed an appeal.
“The court picked on a small flaw in the procedure and denied the admissibility of all evidence,” a senior prosecutor said. “It’s like barring us from investigating spies.”
He said the prosecution did not give Hong a Miranda warning before every questioning but the National Intelligence Service had already done so in 12 previous interrogations. “The suspect even said he was sick and tired of listening to the same thing,” the prosecutor said.
After his acquittal, Hong could not hide his emotion.
“I am an innocent defector but they accused me of being a spy and put me in prison,” he said. “Isn’t that human rights infringement?”
Hong and the Lawyers for a Democratic Society, which represented him in the trial, also held a press conference and claimed that the investigators threatened and sometimes coerced him to confess during 135 days of detention.
BY SER MYO-JA [firstname.lastname@example.org]