N.Korean Defectors Ordered to Testify in Court

      June 20, 2016 11:40

      Twelve North Korean women have been ordered to testify to their escape from a restaurant in China in mid-April.

      In a bizarre turn of events, they are to appear as witnesses in a lawsuit by the defectors' families alleging that the government here abducted them, a charge originating in North Korean propaganda. A court here has accepted the application.

      But the government hopes to overturn the decision. "Making the defectors appear in court is exactly what North Korea wants to see," a government official said Sunday. "We intend to have a lawyer appear in court instead."

      Earlier, the leftwing group Lawyers for a Democratic Society had sought to interview the defectors at a halfway house but was refused.

      Overseas Koreans sympathetic to the North Korean regime then traveled to Pyongyang and obtained powers of attorney from the defectors' families and filed the lawsuit on their behalf on May 24. Lawyers for a Democratic Society said it merely wants to dispel suspicions and publicly verify that the women defected of their own free will.

      But an official at the Seoul Central District Court said, "Considering the sensitivity of the matter, we will urge the proxy attorneys and other people involved in the case to make sure that the proceedings remain a secret from outside parties."

      Meanwhile, the women are still at the halfway house in Seoul, where they are acclimatizing to South Korean society by watching news and TV soaps and going on outings to Western-style restaurants and amusement parks, according to a government source. They are in their late teens and early 20s and "adjusting quickly since they have experience living in China," the source added.

      "The women are very beautiful and could draw unnecessary attention if they travel in one group, so we split them up into groups of three or four when they venture outside." A National Intelligence Service detail tails the women inconspicuously when they go out.

      The woman are fans of the hit soap "Descendants of the Sun" and its star Song Joong-ki because the show was broadcast in China.

      How they feel about having to appear before a South Korean court is unclear. An NIS official said, "We aren't allowed to make comments about them. They know that they could endanger the lives of their families if they tell the judge that they chose to defect. Don't you think they'd be under a lot of stress right now?"

      The women can stay at the halfway house until early October, and after that they can either get additional training at a resettlement center called Hanawon run by the Unification Ministry, or settle into life in the South on their own.

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