Images of two terrified North Korean defectors being forcibly dragged back over the border where they were allegedly executed have sparked outrage in South Korea.
The two fishermen tried to cross into their democratic southern neighbours after they were accused of killing 16 shipmates in a fight over an abusive captain.
Photos have now emerged of the moment the pair were pulled back towards the dictatorship they were trying to flee where North Korean officials waited in vehicles on the other side of the Demilitarized Zone, in 2019.
The men were reportedly executed for treason in North Korea this week although this has not been independently confirmed.
South Korea’s presidential office denounced the repatriation yesterday, accusing the previous government led by Moon Jae-in of a potential ‘crime against humanity’ for the deportation.
Two terrified North Korean defectors were forcibly dragged back over the border and executed after they were seized by South Korean officials
According to the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, it was the first such deportation since the 1953 Korean War Armistice.
Human rights groups and South Korean politicians say the men would never have received a fair trial and even suggested the talks were politically motivated for Moon to conduct peace talks with Kim Jong-un.
‘If they were forcibly repatriated to the North even when they expressed their will to defect, it’s a crime against humanity that violated both international law and the constitution,’ Kang In-sun, spokeswoman for President Yoon Suk-yeol, said.
She vowed that Yoon’s administration would uncover the truth behind the decision, as South Korean prosecutors have re-opened an investigation into the case.
At the time, the government of then president Moon Jae-in called the fishermen ‘dangerous criminals who would threaten South Koreans’ safety’.
The men were reportedly executed for treason in North Korea this week also this has not been independently confirmed
Moon has not commented on the renewed allegations, and Reuters could not immediately trace contact details.
But opposition lawmaker Yoon Kun-young, who served as Moon’s situation room chief, defended the move as being legal and in the national interest.
‘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?’ he wrote on Facebook.
He was one of eight lawmakers who issued a statement accusing the Yoon government of re-opening the case to undermine political foes.
Human rights activists have condemned the repatriation, and a U.N. investigator said South Korea had probably violated the men’s rights, by sidestepping an obligation for its justice system to deal with them rather than deporting the men.
While their fate has not been confirmed, there was an expectation their rights would be violated when they were turned over to North Korean authorities, Tomas Ojea Quintana, the U.N. investigator, said in Seoul last month. read more
According to the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, it was the first such deportation since the 1953 Korean War Armistice
‘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,’ Phil Robertson of New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement.
‘Moon Jae-in and his officials knew that too, and yet still they sent them back.’
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’.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, told The Telegraph: ‘The two men’s desperate resistance to being forced back that is so apparent in those photos show that they understood they were fighting for their lives.
‘What’s clear is the Moon Jae-in government was so desperate to please North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-un that they shamefully disregarded basic principles of human rights and humanity, and that is precisely what they did by pushing these two men back to the North.’
South Korean prosecutors have opened an investigation into the case and there will also be a parliamentary probe into the government’s actions.
One group of South Korean lawyers has even pledged to file a complaint against the former president for attempted murder.
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