June 21, 2016 09:46
The Seoul Central District Court is on a collision course with the government over the summoning of 12 North Korean women who defected from a restaurant in China in April.
The women are to testify in a bizarre court case ostensibly brought by their families in North Korea, who claim the women were abducted by the South Korean government.
On Monday, the court dug in its heels, saying the women's appearance would be handled "according to laws and rules," in the words of a spokesman.
The court added it has not heard from the National Intelligence Service about the matter and the testimony should go ahead.
The government is adamant that they will not appear since they need neither the publicity nor the pressure as they try to acclimatize to South Korean society.
The women's lawyer on Monday said they are anxious about their potential court appearance. Park Young-sik met them several times in her capacity as a human rights advocate to the National Intelligence Service.
"They believe that their families' lives will be threatened if they openly testify that they fled the North of their own free will," Park said.
"They don't want to be exposed openly in the media and draw attention, and they don't want to appear in court," Park added. "In this situation, forcing them to appear and testify in open court might seriously infringe their human rights."
According to the government, the women took a concerted decision to defect and made their own way to a third country using their valid North Korean passports while their supervisor's back was turned.
But North Korea paraded the women's families before the state media claiming they were abducted by South Korea. The propaganda stunt caught the eye of a leftwing group here, Lawyers for a Democratic Society, which instigated the lawsuit by sending several pro-North Korean expatriates to North Korea to obtain powers of attorney from the families.
The group claims it is only interested in transparency.
The women, who are mostly in their early 20s, are currently at a halfway house trying to get used to life in the South. They are taught skills and go on outings. Most of them are planning to study at college here and thinking about what they should major in, a government source said.
Among other things they are learning English. "They feel uncomfortable with the many English words being used in everyday conversation here," the source said. "They seem to feel that they need to learn English quickly to adapt to their new life here."
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