The United Nations is set to release its position on the legitimacy of ousted President Park Geun-hye’s detention in mid-January, said MH Group, an international legal group representing Park.
In an exclusive interview in Seoul on Monday, Mishana Hosseinioun, president of US-based MH Group, told The Korea Herald that the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has started looking into South Korea’s treatment of Park in jail, following allegations she is being unlawfully detained and her basic rights have been violated.
Park Geun-hye (Yonhap)
“As of just a few days ago, the UN working group has officially accepted our case, which means they have formally communicated this to the authorities and are expecting a response from them within the next month,” said Hosseinioun who is visiting Seoul from Sunday to Wednesday.
“So by mid-January, the Republic of Korea has to officially respond to the working group, and the fact that they took this on is that they also believe there is sufficient reason to look into this seriously,” she added.
In October, MH Group sent the United Nations Human Rights Council a document concerning Park’s detention and alleged ill treatment in her cell, urging it to investigate the case to safeguard her human rights.
MH Group is pushing for Park’s provisional release from jail, as the former leader has been detained since March for a trial over a total of 18 charges, including bribery and abuses of power.
It claims Park’s extended detention has no legal grounds and her health conditions have deteriorated as a result.
South Korea’s Justice Ministry denied the claims, saying detention was lawful and she is receiving proper treatment. The National Human Rights Commission of Korea also concluded that Park’s cell was in overall good condition, based on an on-site inspection it carried out in October.
“We are not satisfied with (its investigation) because we have evidence that her detention is arbitrary, and on top of that she is gravely ill without a bed, wrongfully in prison,” Hosseinioun said.
The allegations raised by MH Group are in stark contrast to public sentiment here. The public has criticized the detention center for granting special treatment to the former president, as it was revealed that she had been allowed to stay at a larger cell alone.
Local critics say that Park taking issue with her detention and fairness of the trial through MH Group might be an attempt to garner international sympathy and pave the way to reject the ruling should it be not in her favor.
Mishana Hosseinioun, president of US-based MH Group (Bak Se-hwan/The Korea Herald)
But Hosseinioun insisted that Park had been a victim of a political trial in the court of public opinion. Like anybody else, her right to a fair trial and other basic human rights should be protected, she added.
“There is the issue of also ‘innocence until proven guilty.’ This is being presumed guilty, something that was exaggerated by the public opinion. A lot of people came out for revenge, but it’s not about what they think or what they want, it’s about what is permitted within the law,” she said.
Park, a longtime conservative icon, was impeached in early March over a sweeping influence-peddling scandal. Less than three weeks after, she was taken into custody and the following month was sent for trial.
Her liberal opponent -- President Moon Jae-in -- has since seized power via election and is now running a sweeping campaign to right the past wrong.
MH Group earlier defended Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the son of the former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi who was once seen as heir apparent to his father’s regime, for his rights to a fair trial at the African Court of Human Rights.
Hosseinioun said that such high-profile cases offer a chance to elevate the issue of human rights.
“These cases are chances for incoming governments to do things right and to end the cycle of impunity and cycle of revenge,” she said. “Defending the cases of unpopular people who people think do not deserve to have their human rights protected is the only way to ensure those rights are upheld for all.”
Now, a team of three lawyers including Do Tae-woo, who formerly represented Park in her trial, is working to bring the world’s attention to Park’s detention, she revealed. Hosseinioun did not elaborate on whether she already met Park or plans to meet Park while in Seoul.
Park’s trial is limping on with protests and complaints.
In October, her lawyers quit en masse in protest against the court’s decision to extend her custody by another six months, citing the possibility of her destroying evidence.
Park called her trial “political revenge in the name of the rule of the law” and has boycotted her trial since then by refusing to meet with her newly appointed state lawyers and to attend her own court proceedings, citing poor health.
Hosseinioun revealed that the Justice Ministry refused to meet her team.
In the letter obtained by The Korea Herald, the ministry rejected the meeting, saying that Park is being fairly and humanely treated and the meeting could affect the result of the trial.
Hosseinioun expressed regret, calling the ministry’s decision “defensive.”
By Ock Hyun-ju & Bak Se-hwan