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[Editorial] Returnee from the North

Seoul prosecutors requested an arrest warrant for Han Sang-ryul, who returned to the Republic of Korea from North Korea via the truce village of Panmunjeom last week after staying in the North for 70 days. The prosecutors indicated that Han would be charged with violating the National Security Law for entering the territory of an anti-state entity -- North Korea -- communicating with its members, and praising the North Korean regime.

If convicted of these charges, Han, 60, will be given up to 10 years’ imprisonment. His visit to North Korea via China on June 12 without the Seoul authorities’ permission was the climax of his antigovernment activities which his followers said started with participating in the Gwangju pro-democracy movement in 1980. Over the past few years, Han became increasingly radical and joined almost every protest actions that the nation’s liberal forces staged against the government.

According to information released by intelligence authorities, Han called President Lee a devil and admired Kim Jong-il as the sun of the Korean race in his prayers at some Christian churches in Pyongyang, which are fake chapels built to impress foreign visitors about freedom of religion. In his “report” to public rallies in the North, he claimed that the sinking of the Navy patrol craft Cheonan was a fabrication by the United States and the Lee Myung-bak regime.

After the solitary visit to North Korea, Han faces spending the next several years in prison, separate from his colleagues and congregation at his church in Jeonju. It was a serious mistake for the activist, who had just acted the fool to please the ruling clique in the North. Even progressive media outlets in Seoul are not making any sympathetic comments about Han, who thoroughly disappointed even the most extreme leftists with his ill-conceived heroism.

South Korean society has had a steady pro-unification movement since democratization in the late 1980s. Amidst increased inter-Korean exchanges over the past decade, civic initiatives to promote an atmosphere for unification grew out of pure nationalistic fervor. It is pity that activities like those of Han only widen the gulf between the two Koreas.
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