The Korea Herald


Yoon administration vows to uncover truth of 2019 repatriation of NK fishermen

Democratic Party claims they were felons and different from ordinary defectors

By Shin Ji-hye

Published : July 13, 2022 - 15:28

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Released photos of North Korean fishermen‘s repatriation at Panmunjom (Ministry of Unification) Released photos of North Korean fishermen‘s repatriation at Panmunjom (Ministry of Unification)

After photos showing the North Korean fishermen being repatriated in 2019 were released by the Unification Ministry on Tuesday, the presidential office vowed it will “uncover the truth in detail.” The Democratic Party of Korea immediately denounced President Yoon Suk-yeol‘s office, saying it has a political motivation to attack the former Moon Jae-in administration.

On Tuesday, the Ministry of Unification released 10 photos of a“ North Korean defectors’ repatriation. ”The photos show two North Korean defectors, hands bound together by rope and wearing eye coverings, arriving at Panmunjom and eventually being handed over to North Korea.

When one of them reached the military demarcation line, he covered his face with his upper body, bent down and strongly resisted crossing the border, the photos showed.

“The photo shows two North Korean defectors who arrived at Panmunjom at 3 p.m. on Nov. 7, 2019, refusing to be repatriated to the North,” a spokesperson Kang In-sun said during a briefing at the presidential office on Wednesday.

“The way they struggle not to be dragged away somehow is very different from the explanation of the Moon Jae-in administration that ‘there was no intention of defection,” she said. “If they were forced to return to North Korea even though they expressed their intention to defect, this is a crime against humanity that violates both international law and the Constitution.”

On the same day, the Lawyers for Human Rights and Unification of Korea and the Association of North Korean Defector Organizations said in a press statement that they decided to bring a criminal charge against former President Moon on the grounds of murder, illegal arrest and abduction, abuse of power, destruction of evidence, and violation of the Act on Punishment of Crimes under Jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.

According to the statement, Chung Eui-yong, former President Moon Jae-in’s first director of National Security, asserted that the decision to extradite the defectors was solely made by himself and was never reported to former President Moon.

Nonetheless, former Minister of Unification Kim Yeon-chul stated on Nov. 21, 2019, that then-President Moon was briefed on the matter and made the final call on the extradition after the Conference on Peace on the Korean Peninsula that took place in Los Angeles, it added.

The Democratic Party immediately refuted the government‘s claims during a press conference held Wednesday.

“Does it mean that even North Koreans who killed 16 people should be accepted as South Koreans?” asked Rep. Kim Byung-joo, adding that the People Power Party should not continue to attempt to create political strife.

“There is a misunderstanding that the North Korean defectors came to South Korea on their own, but this is not true, our military captured them alive,” Kim said. “They are not related to ordinary North Korean defectors.”

In November 2019, the previous Moon Jae-in government sent the two fishers back to North Korea on the grounds that they were felons who killed 16 North Koreans, that they could not be recognized as refugees under international law and that they were more willing to flee than defect and that the Korean judicial system could not punish them appropriately.

When asked about the North Koreans killing 16 of their colleagues, a senior official of the presidential office said on the condition of anonymity, “Whoever they are, there are some legitimate procedures for Korean people once they have come to the Republic of Korea and expressed their intention to [be here].”

“I think it’s an important concern for us to go through those processes and decide whether those things have been done properly,” the official said.