North Korean defectors deported back from South Korea in 2019
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The clip, released by Seoul’s Ministry of Unification and widely circulated on YouTube, shows South Korean officials manhandling the pair across the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) which separates North and South Korea. Several still images from the brief film were released by the ministry last week, prompting widespread anger in the South.
Unconfirmed reports claim that after their return to North Korea in 2019, the men were probably executed or imprisoned.
Lord Alton, Co-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea, has responded by sending a letter to recently elected South Korean president Yoon Seok-Youl, expressing his “deep sadness and concern” at the images, taken at a time when former President Moon Jae-in was in the Blue House.
The letter was sent on July 15 and co-signed by Timothy Cho, Inquiry Clerk, All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea, Benedict Rogers, the Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, Liberal Democrat Parliamentary candidate David Campanale, and North Korean Human Rights Activist Ji-Hyun Park.
They said: “We are now writing to you to urge your new government to investigate this case, to assess who ordered the repatriation of these two men and why, and to hold those responsible accountable for undermining South Korea’s values of the rule of law, democracy and its international obligations to uphold human rights norms and principles.”
Mr Cho, the North Korea spokesman for the Christian persecution charity Open Doors UK, who was himself repatriated by force, facing torture, later added: “I was in tears. It brought me trauma.
“I think every North Korean escapee who has experienced forced repatriation will understand.
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“And you can only imagine how insecure escapees living in South Korea are feeling they watch this.”
At the time, Moon said the deportations were appropriate because the men were “dangerous criminals who would threaten South Koreans’ safety”.
The two North Korean fishermen were captured close to the eastern sea border after their boat drifted into South Korean waters, at which point they confessed to killing 16 fellow crew members and said they wanted to defect, the South Korean government said at the time.
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The Moon administration claimed their intentions to defect were insincere given their murder confessions, deporting them five days after taking them into custody. It was the first such deportation by South Korea since the 1950-53 war.
Nevertheless, there was widespread condemnation of the move, which Mr Cho said denied the men any opportunity to contest the allegations.
He explained: “Even if the men were guilty of these killings, they were entitled to a fair trial.
“Once people reach the South, they are considered to be citizens of South Korea. This was utterly inhumane.
“You can even see them attempting to kill themselves once they have crossed the Demilitarised Zone – that’s how frightened they were.”
Mr Cho suggested the deportations to be politically motivated, as was the release of film footage by the new government.
He added: “This kind of manoeuvring is like a game of political ping pong between the parties in South Korea. And it has the cost of North Korean escapees’ lives.”
A North Korean propaganda website has claimed the renewed focus on the repatriation incident was a “petty act of political revenge” by the Yoon administration – but did not comment in detail about Pyongyang’s stance on the fishermen.
Ji Seong-ho, a defector who is a member of South Korea’s National Assembly, representing Mr Yoon’s conservative People Power Party, said the photos were “shocking and cruel.”
He added: “The Moon administration knew the fishermen would be tortured and killed brutally if they were returned, yet they set precedent instilling fear in North Korean defectors.”
North Korea is arguably the most secretive society in the world. Kim has been the country’s leader since 2011, succeeding his father Kim Jong-il, who himself took over from his father Kim Il-sung in 1994.
Express.co.uk has approached the South Korean embassy in London for comment.
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