Was N. Korean Defector Kidnapped or Arrested?

      September 08, 2004 15:43

      The dragging back to North Korea of defector Jin Gyeong-suk in China by suspicious individuals who appeared to be North Koreans is showing signs of becoming an international issue between Northeast Asian states, while controversy grows as to the nature of her capture.

      Mrs. Jin was trying to meet a North Korean in China to obtain a video of opium fields near Musan, North Hamgyeong Province on Aug. 8 when she was dragged away by suspicious characters that appeared to be North Koreans.

      In back of Foreign Ministry headquarters on Sejong-no, the husband of Jin Gyeong-suk reads a letter calling for his wife's earliest repatriation to the South at a press conference Tuesday. Jin, a defector who was kidnapped back to the North on Aug. 8, is known to be undergoing investigation in Chongjin, North Korea.

      Article 48 of the North Korean criminal code states that non-citizens who commit acts of espionage are punishable by up to seven years of forced labor. Accordingly, what Jin did was a violation of North Korean law, so some are claiming that Jin was arrested, not kidnapped.

      When you consider, however, that Jin was taken from Chinese territory and while she was a defector, she was a Republic of Korea national, the expression "kidnapping" might be closer to the truth.

      Jin's husband Mun Jeong-hun said the two, who were on their honeymoon, were waiting at the edge of the Tumen River for a person to deliver a gift to her cousin, who lives in Chongjin, North Korea.

      In his first statement to the Korean Embassy in China, however, he reported that the two -- under the cover of a honeymoon -- were waiting for a North Korean to whom they provided a camcorder to record video footage of opium fields near Musan, North Hamgyeong Province in order to obtain the tape and hand it over to a Japanese media company when his wife was kidnapped by strange, unidentified individuals.

      About the conflicting statements, some have wondering whether Mun was hiding his own actions and joining forces with domestic and foreign NGOs to criticize North Korea in order to cover up his own mistakes.

      A government official said, "We are always telling defectors that China is a dangerous place for them, but these incidents happen… We cannot comprehend how you could claim your right to free travel and then try to sell a North Korean video identified as a North Korean defector."

      This incident, in which a North Korean defector who had settled in South Korea visited China to sell a video to a Japanese media company was presumably dragged back to North Korea, is becoming a virtual international issue between the two Koreas, China, and Japan.

      Not only is it difficult for defectors who have violated North Korean law to be repatriated to the South, but as she was caught on Chinese territory and a Japanese media company is involved, resolving this incident won't be easy.

      In particular, with the Japanese media swinging toward the right in their views of the North, there is growing enthusiasm for using defectors to get video footage from inside North Korea. Moreover, with local North Korean human rights groups calling for the government to come up with a solution to this problem, the incident is showing signs of growing even more complicated.

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