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South Korea vows probe of 2019 North Korean repatriations

The South Korean government on Wednesday slammed the controversial 2019 repatriation of two North Koreans, after releasing photos that appeared to show one of them resisting the handover. Then-president Moon Jae-in’s administration had expelled the men after investigators said the pair murdered 16 crewmates before taking their fishing boat to South Korean waters. The government said at the time that the men — described by officials as…



The contentious 2019 repatriation of two North Koreans was criticized by the South Korean government on Wednesday after it released images that purported to show one of them objecting to the transfer.

The guys were ejected by the government of President Moon Jae-in at the time because of allegations that they killed 16 members of their crew before bringing their fishing boat into South Korean waters.

At the time, the government claimed that the guys, who were called “dangerous criminals” by authorities, had no intention of defecting. The two did not want to remain in South Korea, according to at least two officials.

However, photos of their transfer at the Panmunjom truce settlement that were made public by the new, conservative government on Tuesday showed one man vehemently fighting the handover.


According to Kang In-sun, a spokesman for President Yoon Suk-yeol, if they were “forcibly taken” to North Korea, it would be “a crime against humanity that breaches both international law and the Constitution.”

She declared that the government would “completely ascertain the facts underlying this matter.”

In one picture, a man was seen lying down and being dragged by officials toward the Military Demarcation Line separating the two Koreas.

The two men seemed tied with ropes and blindfolded in other pictures before to being returned home.


Rights organizations have previously claimed that the transfer was against international law since it was likely that the prisoners would suffer torture or worse in North Korea.

The two men were reportedly blinded during their voyage and only became aware of their fate when their masks were removed to reveal North Korean soldiers waiting to take them into prison, according to South Korean media at the time.

According to the conservative Chosun Ilbo, one of them immediately fainted.

“Detestable and cruel”


The liberal Moon has been accused of accommodating Pyongyang by the hawkish Yoon, who has been harshly critical of his predecessor’s dovish strategy.

Since the end of the Korean War, the case from 2019 marked the first transfer from the South to the North.

Human rights organizations roundly denounced it at the moment as a legal violation and charged Moon of attempting to win Kim Jong Un’s favor.

All North Koreans are immediately regarded citizens of South Korea under its constitution, and those who enter the country and declare a desire to leave are frequently permitted to do so.


The two men were deported, according to a Moon government official in 2019, because they would “pose a threat” to society and could not be considered refugees because they were “serious criminals.”

Additionally, Moon’s minister for unification Kim Yeon-chul at the time informed MPs that the fishermen did not want to stay. “Even if we die, we’d like to die in our own country,” they reportedly told South Korean police.

However, Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch’s deputy director for Asia, claimed on Wednesday that the recently revealed photographs showed the men’s “desperate resistance to being forced back.”

He charged that the Moon administration, which included a former human rights attorney, had “a terrible and callous disdain for human rights.”


According to Robertson, the images demonstrate that the deported men “knew they were fighting for their lives.”

The case has been renewed by the prosecution since Yoon entered office in May.

Additionally, South Korea’s intelligence agency asked for a formal probe this week into claims that Suh Hoon, the agency’s previous head under Moon, ordered the early conclusion of an internal inquiry into the incident.