On Wednesday, South Korea’s presidential office condemned the former progressive administration’s decision to repatriate two North Korean fishermen in 2019 amid newly released photographs of the men being forcibly moved across the border.
The images were made public by Seoul’s Unification Ministry. In response, President Yoon Suk-yeol’s spokesperson Kang In-sun called the decision “a crime against humanity that violated both international law and the constitution.”
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The fishermen were reportedly found near the eastern sea after their boat drifted into South Korean waters. The two confessed to killing 16 of their shipmates, and at the time of the incident then-President Moon Jae-in’s spokesperson Kim Eun-han described the men as “heinous criminals” who also did not “clearly express” a “sincere” desire to remain in the South.
The fishermen were deported just five days after being taken into custody without the usual treatment of North Korean defectors in which they are investigated and debriefed by Seoul’s intelligence officials.
From the new photographs, however, the fishermen are seen being dragged by South Korean men in military uniforms at the truce village of Panmunjom. Their defensive stance presents a strong case that “they did not have any intention to defect,” as Kang noted at a press conference on Wednesday.
She also assured that Yoon’s administration would “clarify every detail about the truth in this case” in order to “restore the universal values of freedom and human rights.”
Last week, South Korea’s spy agency filed a criminal complaint against Suh Hoon, who served as the chief intelligence official during the time of the repatriation.
Hoon is accused of falsifying documents and prematurely ending the investigation into the men’s deportation.
Eight lawmakers, including Moon’s former situation room chief Yoon Kun-young, accused President Yoon of re-opening the case to deliberately undermine the opposition party.
In a Facebook post, Kun-young questioned: “President Yoon, are you saying we should have let the grotesque murderers get away with their crime and protect them with our own people’s tax money?”
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The 2019 decision to deport the fishermen was heavily condemned by the international community.
Amnesty International issued a statement at the time calling the repatriation a “denial” of the “right to a fair trial.”
Phil Robertson of New York-based Human Rights Watch similarly expressed that “The two men’s desperate resistance to being forced back that is so apparent in those photos shows that they understood they were fighting for their lives.”
Robertson accused Moon of being “so desperate to please North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong Un” that he “shamefully disregarded basic principles of human rights and humanity.”
While it is not confirmed, it is suspected that the men were publicly executed in Pyongyang.
Featured Image via South China Morning Post