The Korea Herald


Court overturns ruling on fabricated asylum interview: report

By Yoon Min-sik

Published : Dec. 6, 2023 - 16:42

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This Oct. 15, 2020 file photo in Seoul shows human rights organizations calling for the fair and transparent screening of refugees here. (Ock Hyun-ju/The Korea Herald) This Oct. 15, 2020 file photo in Seoul shows human rights organizations calling for the fair and transparent screening of refugees here. (Ock Hyun-ju/The Korea Herald)

A 2021 court ruling that had ordered the South Korean government and two civil servants to compensate for the fabricated asylum interview of an Egyptian human rights activist was overturned recently, as an appellate court acknowledged unlawful acts in the process but did not hold the two civil servants responsible for compensating the victim financially.

According to local media outlet The Hankyoreh on Wednesday, the appellate division of the Seoul Central District Court has ruled against Darwish Musab, a refugee from Egypt whose initial request for asylum in 2016 had been rejected due to the fabrication of his testimony by a Korea Immigration Office official surnamed Jo and an interpreter surnamed Jang.

In his initial application for refugee status in 2016, Musab said that he had been arrested several times for his role in anti-government protests in Egypt during the Arab Spring in 2011, while working as a human rights activist documenting repression there, but it was recorded instead that he had just come to South Korea "to make money."

According to South Korea's Refugee Act, refugee status can only be granted to those who are persecuted for political reasons or their race, religion, nationality or social status.

Musab had filed civil charges against the Justice Ministry and the officials involved seeking compensation for his psychological distress and won the case in December 2021, with the court ordering the defendants jointly to pay him compensation worth 37 million won ($28,200).

While the ministry accepted the ruling and paid the entire sum, the other defendants -- Jo and Jang -- appealed the case.

The appellate court acknowledged the unlawful nature of the defendants failing to register Musab's specific situation on his application for asylum, but said Musab as the plaintiff had failed to submit documents to sufficiently prove gross negligence on their part.

The court also stated that the government had forced an excessive amount of refugee-related work on a limited number of employees, which "caused structural reasons for an inadequate asylum interview process."

"The State Compensation Act states that individual civil servants are to be held accountable for compensation only in cases of a deliberate action or gross negligence, and there does not seem to be an illegal act due to deliberate intent or gross negligence on the part of these defendants," the court said in its ruling.

Musab claimed that the lack of evidence is due to Jo not abiding by the proper legal procedures and instead failing to leave a video recording of his asylum interview.

The Hankyoreh reported that Musab was bewildered by the ruling, and is considering taking the case to Korea's Supreme Court.

The case of the Egypt-born human rights activist had made headlines as a landmark case in which in the initial ruling, South Korea had acknowledged its responsibility in poorly handling asylum applications. Musab was eventually given another chance for an interview, and was granted refugee status here in 2018.