Belarusian envoy frisked by security at March 1 Independence Day ceremony

By Korea Herald
  • Published : May 11, 2014 - 15:03
  • Updated : May 11, 2014 - 15:09
Belarusian Ambassador to South Korea Natallia I. Zhylevich (Philip Iglauer/The Korea Herald)

The Belarusian ambassador was pulled from a security line by a government security agent who attempted to undo her jacket and frisk her during an official March 1st Independence Day ceremony at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts.

The hands-on search took place even after Belarusian Ambassador Natallia Zhylevich presented all her accreditation documents, as well as her diplomatic identification, and after she had passed through a metal detector and was checked yet again with a handheld device.

Zhylevich, along with all of the 100-plus foreign ambassadors to South Korea, was invited to attend the ceremony marking the 95th anniversary of the March 1 Independence Movement at the Sejong center in downtown Seoul.

The Korea Herald obtained an official letter of complaint by the dean of the diplomatic corps here, Dato Harun Ismail, the Bruneian ambassador to South Korea, which stated that Zhylevich was pulled from the security line by a male security agent who then attempted to undo her jacket and frisk her.

“It goes without saying that the Council of Diplomatic Corps, which met on March 5, 2014, and I are extremely disturbed at this development,” Ismail said in the letter, dated March 6.

Addressed to First Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Cho Tae-yong, and cced to Foreign Affairs Minister Yun Byung-se, the letter describes the search as a violation of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

“Such a procedure is a disregard of international law, which clearly guarantees inviolability of the persons, honor and dignity of diplomatic representatives as stipulated by Article 29 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. We are representatives of sovereign countries in the Republic of Korea,” Ismail said.

President Park Geun-hye spoke at the event, and diplomatic protocol and procedures customary to any formal state function should have been followed, said several ambassadors familiar with this incident.

For her part, the Belarusian ambassador said in her own complaint letter that “the MOFA protocol officer representation was not visible on the premises.” The incident could have been avoided had a protocol officer been present from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said those same foreign envoys familiar with what happened.

Seo Bin, the director for diplomatic missions under the protocol affairs section of the foreign ministry, declined to comment on the matter, saying it was still being reviewed. But Seo added that since the Ministry of Security and Public Administration organized the event, it was the ministry responsible for protocol, not the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The Presidential Security Service, an independent agency similar to the U.S. Secret Service and tasked with the protection of the president and Cheong Wa Dae, was the group in charge of security for the ceremony at the Sejong Center, a MOSPA official said.

In the three weeks since the incident, foreign envoys here have described other situations in which they were inappropriately subjected to searches by law enforcement and security officials in violation of international norms and diplomatic protections.

By Philip Iglauer (