Repatriated N.Korean Fishermen 'Executed for Treason'

  • By Kim Myong-song

    July 14, 2022 09:33

    Two North Korean fishermen who were forcibly repatriated by South Korea in 2019 were executed on return on charges of treason, a well-informed source said Wednesday.

    The Moon Jae-in administration claimed that the two, whom it accused of murdering 16 fellow crewmembers, had no intention to defect, but the North Korean regime seems to have believed otherwise.

    News of their forcible repatriation caused fear among other defectors from the brutal dictatorship, who are considered South Korean citizens under the Constitution and entitled to protection once they decide to defect.

    One defector who used to be a high-ranking official in the North and was hiding in Thailand in November 2019 told the Chosun Ilbo, "I was shocked when I saw the news reports of the forced repatriation and could not sleep for several days. I was worried that I might end up getting sent back blindfolded."

    Another defector who was hiding in China at the time said, "I had second thoughts about going to South Korea because I was afraid of being sent back. It makes me shudder to see the photos of those fishermen."

    The Unification Ministry here on Tuesday released a dozen photos of the two men being blindfolded and desperately resisting being handed over to North Korean soldiers at the border.

    A South Korean activist who helps North Korean defectors said, "The forced repatriation had a huge psychological impact on North Koreans. Many gave up plans to defect and many others who were hiding in China chose to flee to the U.S. or Canada instead."

    According to the source, the two fishermen were executed by state security in North Hamgyong Province, where they lived, on charges of murder and treason.

    North Korean law stipulates that it is treason to escape to another country, betray communism or hand over state secrets to the enemy, which entails a punishment of more than five years of hard labor or death. "The fact that they were found guilty of treason means they confessed to attempting to defect," the source said.

    People Power Party lawmaker Ha Tae-keung told the Chosun Ilbo, "I learned that the North Korean regime used the repatriation incident as an example to tell North Koreans that it is useless to defect."

    The two had in fact expressed their intention to defect in handwritten statements during a hasty investigation here by the National Intelligence Service.

    "As soon as the fishermen signed a document professing their will to defect, they become a South Korean nationals," Ha said. "The Moon administration pushed its own citizens, to their deaths in order to curry favor with North Korea. After that, North Korean defectors avoided South Korean soldiers and government officials for fear of being sent back to the North."

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