The Korea Herald


[Newsmaker] NK defectors accuse unification minister of defamation

By Ko Jun-tae

Published : Feb. 21, 2021 - 14:14

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Unification Minister Lee In-young (Yonhap) Unification Minister Lee In-young (Yonhap)
Four North Korean defectors in South Korea are filing a criminal defamation complaint against Unification Minister Lee In-young over remarks he made earlier this month questioning the reliability of defectors’ statements about human rights issues in the North.

Mulmangcho, a Seoul-based nongovernmental group that supports North Korean defectors, said Sunday that four defectors would file a complaint with the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office on Monday afternoon over comments the minister made during a foreign press briefing Feb. 3.

At that time, Lee told reporters that “there are some gaps and shortfalls in confirming and validating comments from North Korean refugees in regards to North Korea’s human rights issues” -- a statement the group considers defamatory.

The defectors filing the complaint said Lee has failed to protect North Korean defectors and pursue improvements on human rights in North Korea, calling those key responsibilities of the Unification Ministry.

“Considering the overall tragedy occurring in North Korea, only the tip of the iceberg has been uncovered, but lashing out at our comments as lies to foreign press is an act of threat aimed at North Korean refugees who have come here in search for freedom,” the defectors said in the complaint.

Under South Korean law, defamation can be penalized by up to two years in prison or a fine of up to 5 million won ($4,520).

Lee, a left-wing politician with the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, has stayed rather passive and silent on North Korea’s human rights issues, drawing criticism at the domestic and international levels since assuming the post in July.

Tomas Ojae Quintana, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, condemned South Korea in a radio interview last year for not being vocal and outspoken on North Korean human rights issues.

South Korea for two consecutive years opted out of co-sponsoring a North Korean human rights resolution at the UN, participating only in the consensus process. The annual resolution, led by the European Union, was sponsored by 58 countries last year, including the US and the UK.

Seoul sponsored the bill from 2008 to 2018, but decided not to do so in 2019 or 2020, drawing heavy backlash from the country’s conservative lawmakers as well as from human rights watchers.

By Ko Jun-tae (