September 13, 2018 13:36
Some of the North Korean women whose escape from a restaurant in China stirred up two years of controversy have recently been given their South Korean passports.
Their manager, Heo Kang-il, and one of the women were given passports immediately after their arrival here, but the other 11 were not, and some reports gave the impression that they came here against their will and wanted to go home.
One of the women has said she did not know they were traveling to South Korea when they left China.
"Heo and one of the female employees were granted passports quickly because they took the lead in the escape, but it was a different story for the rest of them," a member of a defectors group said. "But now three or four others have also been given South Korean passports."
There are growing suspicions that the murky defection was orchestrated by the National Intelligence Service.
Activists including Lawyers for a Democratic Society have argued that it is a violation of the women's rights that they were not given passports even though they are by law automatically South Korean citizens.
The NIS withdrew its objections to giving them passports last week, which was apparently prompted by concerns that they could use them to fly to China and return to the North.
But a human rights activist said they are still prevented from leaving the country because they are under a protection order. "We're going to file an administrative suit to have the order of protection lifted," the activist added.
A security official denied that the protection order exists but added, "I don't know whether they can travel overseas or not."
It is unclear why such an order would have been issued, though it may have been prompted by concerns that they could be abducted by North Korean agents if they travel abroad.
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