Unification, justice ministries deny there is legal basis to repatriate NK fishermen: lawmaker

SEOUL, July 14 (Yonhap) — The unification and justice ministries have denied there was any legal basis for the previous administration’s repatriation of two North Korean fishermen in 2019, the ministry’s office said Thursday. legislator.

In 2019, the North Koreans confessed to killing 16 other crew members and expressed a desire to defect to South Korea. But the Moon Jae-in government at the time deemed their intentions insincere and sent them back to the North where they could have been severely punished.

The repatriation is one of the suspected cases involving the former administration that President Yoon Suk-yeol’s government is revisiting, with the North killing a South Korean fisheries official near the western sea border. in 2020.

The Moon administration argued that repatriation was similar to deportation under immigration law.

But in response to questions from Representative Yoo Sang-bum of the ruling People’s Power Party (PPP), the Unification and Justice Ministries said North Koreans are not subject to the law as they are considered as citizens by law.

According to the lawmaker, the unification ministry said the immigration law does not apply to North Koreans who have expressed a desire to defect to South Korea. He also said there were no deportation-related clauses in North Korea’s Defector Settlement Protection and Support Law.

The Justice Department also said that those who can be deported under the immigration law are foreigners and that North Koreans are not subject to the law because under the Constitution they are considered as South Korean nationals, the lawmaker said.

Deportation requires an order from the justice minister, but no such order has been issued, he added.

The unification ministry also said that the presidential national security office practically directed the repatriation and that the ministry was later informed about the matter, according to Yoo.

“The Moon Jae-in government’s repatriation of North Korean fishermen against their desire to defect is an act that clearly violates the Constitution and laws and constitutes serious complicity in North Korea’s human rights abuses. “said the PPP lawmaker.

Criticism over the repatriation intensified this week after the Unification Ministry released 10 photos of North Koreans being dragged across the inter-Korean border and handed over to the North, apparently against their will.

Critics accused the Moon administration of sending them back to their home countries where they could have been harshly punished in a bid to curry favor with Pyongyang to help advance the stalled inter-Korean peace process.

President Yoon Suk-yeol’s office said the forced repatriation could constitute a “crime against humanity” and vowed to uncover the truth behind the case. Earlier on Thursday, the PPP said it would consider launching a parliamentary inquiry or an investigation by independent counsel into the matter.

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