- 북한 노동자 대회 직전 이뤄진데 주목, 정치적 의도 가능성 지적
국정원 북한이탈주민센터에 머물고 있는 탈북 해외식당 여성 종업원 12명에 대한 ‘인신보호 구제심사’ 사건이 외신의 주목을 받고 있다. 북한 해외식당 여종업원 탈북은 기획탈북이란 의심이 꾸준히 제기돼 왔고 이에 ‘민주사회를위한변호사모임'(민변)이 구제를 청구한 것이다.
이 사건에 대해 영국 BBC는 여종업원의 탈북이 북한 노동자대회 직전에 이뤄졌음에 주목한다. 즉, 남한 측이 노동자 대회 의미를 반감시켜 김정은이 제대로 스포트라이트를 받기 위해 기획한 것 아니냐는 지적이다.
이에 대해 국정원은 해외식당 여종업원들이 자진 탈북했다는 입장을 고수한다. 그러나 이들의 신병을 붙잡아두고 있고 그래서 민변이 나선 것이다. BBC도 이 사건이 주목받는 데 대해 정치적 의도가 있음을 시사한다.
번역 감수 : Elizabeth
기사 바로가기 ☞ http://bbc.in/28JCjGy
21 June 2016 From the section Asia
A South Korean court has held a rare hearing into the detention of 12 North Koreans who defected to the South.
A group of human rights lawyers who requested the hearing want to determine whether South Korea’s continuing detention of the women is legal.
The women, who worked as waitresses at a North Korea-run restaurant in China, arrived in Seoul in April.
Seoul says they came of their own free will, while Pyongyang maintains they were abducted.
The women were not present at the hearing, with South Korea’s spy agency saying the women did not wish to testify for fear of endangering their families.
However, the rights lawyers said the case could not proceed without the women present, and demanded that the judge be replaced. The case has been adjourned while the court considers the lawyers’ request.
The hearing could set a precedent for how South Korea deals with the hundreds of defectors it receives every year.
The BBC’s Stephen Evans in Seoul explains more about the case.
What have the women said?
We haven’t heard from them. These particular defectors have not spoken in public and the South Korean government has indicated that they don’t want to.
If that’s true, it may be because of fears of repercussions on their families in the North, or because they simply don’t want a public life.
Some of their relatives and friends in the North have given interviews. According to the Associated Press news agency which has a bureau in Pyongyang, Ri Gum-suk, the mother of one of the workers, So Kyong-ah, said all the parents were heartbroken.
Her husband, So Thae-song told AP: “They say our children defected, making their own free decision, but then why don’t they put our children in front of us parents? I want to hear the words from my lovely daughter. Why don’t they let her meet us? They say they defected willingly as a group. I can’t accept this”.
The news agency said the interviews were unforced though the interviewees may well have been rehearsed by the authorities in Pyongyang.
Is it unusual for the South to detain defectors?
The usual procedure when North Koreans defect to the South is for them to be accommodated in special centres.
They are questioned by the intelligence service to ascertain whether they are spies, and they are also given courses in how to negotiate life in South Korea – how to get a job, how to use a bank account, etc.
Many North Korean defectors find the transition hard. Suicide rates among defectors are higher than among the general population.
Who are the lawyers and why have they brought this case?
The group, Lawyers for a Democratic Society, says it “strives to further the development of democracy in Korea through litigation, research, and investigation”.
It says it is “dedicated to increasing public awareness and collaborating in joint activities to protect basic human rights and attain social justice”. It has more than 900 members who are prominent lawyers.
It is fair to say that they are not naturally sympathetic to the current right-of-centre government but their prime concern is the protection of democratic rights.
Local media reports said the group of lawyers obtained power-of-attorney from the defectors’ families in the North for the hearing.
Why has this defection attracted so much attention?
About a thousand people defect every year from North Korea. The number has fallen in recent years as the North’s economy has improved.
Most get over the porous border with China and the indications are that the Chinese authorities are more lenient than they used to be.
These waitresses had visas to be in China because they were working openly there, so the usual argument of the Beijing authorities – that they should simply be returned to North Korea as illegal migrants – didn’t hold.
The announcement of the mass defection was made by South Korea just before the high-publicity congress in Pyongyang last month.
There were accusations that it was designed to detract from the publicity North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was getting at the time, but the Southern authorities have denied that.
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