North Korean fishermen suspected of killing 16 of their crew members


SEOUL, South Korea-In an extremely unusual case, South Korea deported two North Korean fishermen on Thursday after finding they had killed 16 other crew members on their boat and then fled to South Korean waters, Seoul officials said. The two men, both in their 20s, breached the inter-Korean maritime frontier off the east coast into the South aboard a squid fishing boat on Saturday and South Korean authorities detained them for questioning, ministry spokesman Lee Sang-min said.

"We made a decision to deport them after determining that accepting them to our society could pose a threat to the lives and safety of our people and that such criminals cannot be recognized as refugees under worldwide law", said Ministry of Unification Spokesperson Lee Sang-min, at a press briefing. It said a South Korean investigation later found the two had killed 16 colleagues aboard a fishing boat and escaped to South Korea.

South Korea's expulsion of two North Korean fishermen set a bad precedent that has spread fears in the North Korean defector community and could lend legitimacy to its widely criticised judicial system, defectors and activists said on Friday. While fishing in waters near Russian Federation and elsewhere, the two men collaborated with another crew member and killed the captain, who they said had abused them.

"They called out the others by twos every 40 minutes on the pretext of changing shifts and methodically slaughtered them with a blunt weapon and threw the bodies into the water", the paper reported.

"As we know from decades of research into how North Korea treats its citizens, there is no doubt that the two deportees have been returned to a place where they face no due process, harsh punishment, torture, and almost-certain execution", said Greg Scarlatoiu, executive director of HRNK.

During the meeting, the ministers will discuss various security issues, including security situations on the Korean Peninsula, the conditions-based transfer of the wartime operational control of South Korean troops from Washington to Seoul, future security cooperation, and the relocation and return of USA military bases in South Korea. "South Korea no longer provides a safe haven for them", Scarlatoiu added. Defectors are given the option to stay in the country and start a new life.

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Specifically, Kim points out that South Korea is a signatory to the United Nations Convention against Torture, which prohibits the return or extradition of a person to another state "where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture".

But while it may be hard to sympathize with those accused of multiple homicides, the decision sets a bad precedent, said Seoul-based human rights lawyer Kim Se-jin, who said South Korea did not live up to its worldwide obligations.

Lee said Seoul has determined the two's acceptance to the South Korean society would threaten its own public safety.

They were treated as criminals - rather than defectors - and sent back.

Japan's export restrictions came in an apparent protest against the South Korean top court's rulings that ordered some of Japanese companies to pay reparation to the South Korean victims who were forced into hard labor without pay during the 1910-45 Japanese colonization of the Korean Peninsula.

There were 1,127 defections from North to South in 2017, according to data from Seoul. "I think the [South Korean government] offered them up to North Korea as a sacrifice, since North Korea is so adamant about the Mt. Kumgang issue", said Jung, referring to Kim Jong Un's recent order to demolish South Korean buildings at an inter-Korean tourist resort. That is down from a peak of 2,914 in 2009.