Civic and religious group members hold signs that says "Send unconverted long-term prisoners back to their family!" during a press conference held in Seoul on Tuesday. (Yonhap)
A group of civic and religious organizations here urged the Seoul government to send 14 aged North Korean spies and prisoners of war back to the North this year. 2020 marks the 20th anniversary of the first and last such large-scale repatriation.
The 14 North Koreans have been held in South Korean prisons for decades for refusing to abjure communism. Most are now in their 80s, and the majority of North Koreans held for similar reasons were released in the early 2000s.
Local organizations including the Support Committee for Prisoners of Conscience, Fellowship with the Sufferers, the National Council of Churches in Korea Human Rights Center and the Korea Alliance for Progressive Movement formed a committee Tuesday to campaign for the prisoners’ return to the North.
“The repatriation of long-term unconverted prisoners is a basic human rights issue,” the committee said during a press conference in Seoul, stressing the right to freedom of movement and the right to return to one’s home country as the principles behind their advocacy. “We will work together to help the 14 prisoners who wish to repatriate and return to their home country and their families as soon as possible, before they pass away.”
The committee said the repatriation of the prisoners was agreed upon in the June 15 South-North Joint Declaration at the inter-Korean summit in 2000, and was also covered in the 2018 Panmunjom Declaration, which stated that the two Koreas would endeavor to “swiftly resolve the humanitarian issues that resulted from the division of the nation.”
In 2000, Seoul sent 63 North Korean spies and prisoners of war back to North Korea, in the first large-scale repatriation of its kind since the 1950-1953 Korean War, after the historic inter-Korean summit brought about a thaw between the two Koreas.
According to the committee, of the 33 prisoners who had expressed a desire for repatriation as of 2000, just 14 are still alive.
By Ahn Sung-mi (email@example.com