Playing games with defectors

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Playing games with defectors

Controversy arose over how to protect the twelve female North Korean employees who defected to South Korea on April 7 — shortly before the April 13 general election in the South — after working for a North Korean restaurant in Zhejiang province, China.

It all began after a judge at the Seoul Central District Court accepted a plea for reviewing sincerity of their defection. The request was made by the Lawyers for a Democratic Society, a liberal group simply called “Minbyun.” It filed a suit requesting the court determine if those female workers really came to the South on their own, as the government insists, or if they were kidnapped by our National Intelligence Service agents to send them over here.

The court ordered the top spy agency let all of the defectors appear in the court, and the government said it will send a lawyer — instead of the North Koreans — to the court’s deliberations scheduled on Tuesday, as otherwise it could lead to exposure of the identities of the defectors and other sensitive information involving our security.

The liberal group took the action based on the local law to safeguard individual liberty — a Korean equivalent of the Habeas Corpus Act — which allows lawyers to demand release of detainees at government facilities to protect their basic rights by preventing unlawful or arbitrary imprisonment.

In a press conference on Monday, Minbyun expressed the hope that those defectors have a chance to express their positions freely as their personal information was already revealed by a Chinese newspaper and on the Internet after the government announced their arrival here a day after their defection. Of course, the government hurriedly made public their entry into South Korea in a suspicious move to affect the general election by breaking with their precedents.

But it is not desirable either for Minbyun to intervene in the sensitive matter while the security authorities are investigating their real motives for defection. Worse, we are dumbfounded at act of the legal group to receive a letter of mandate from pro-North groups on behalf of the defectors’ relatives in the North in order to qualify for their legal representatives.

Minbyun also ignored the conservative Korean Bar Association’s position that the defectors do not want their personal information to leak considering the safety of their families in the North. If Minbyun adheres to its own argument without listening to what others say, its motives can be questioned. The court also must not stick to only legal procedures without considering the unique significance of the defection amid an intense standoff with the North.


JoongAng Ilbo, Jun. 21, Page 30
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