Posted June. 21, 2016 07:25,
Updated June. 21, 2016 08:25
Controversy has flared up over whether it is appropriate to hold a court hearing as the hearing to judge whether North Korean waitresses, who defected to South Korea from a North Korean restaurant in China in April, did so "voluntarily" is set to take place on Tuesday.
Judge Lee Young-je at the Seoul District Court will conduct from 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday a closed hearing on a case seeking protection of people’s safety. The hearing will determine whether 12 of the 13 waitresses who defected from Ryu Kyong restaurant in Ningbo in Zhejiang Province, China, and whether it is appropriate for them to reside in the North Korean defector protection center (formerly the general integration center under the National Intelligence Service), which is the first case since North Korean defectors have moved to South Korea.
Earlier, the Minbyun, or Lawyers for Democratic Society, made an appeal to secure protection of personal safety in line with the human safety protection act. The Minbyun intends to check whether the defectors moved to South Korea on a voluntary basis. Application for protection of personal safety is a measure through which people housed in state-run facilities against individuals’ free make an appeal to court to seek their personal protection. As the court accepted the Minbyun’s appeal, it sent summons to those defectors at the National Intelligence Service in order to hold a court hearing.
On this, the National Intelligence Service said on Monday, “The waitresses do not want to attend the court hearing. Their legal attorneys will attend on their behalf.” If the waitresses reject to attend the hearing, there is no way to force them to take part. The NIS cited as the reasons for their absence the fact that the waitresses themselves do not wish to make appearance in public, and that they are worried about dangers including possible death of their family members in the North if they claim to have defected voluntarily. North Korea has been claiming that the South Korean government kidnapped the defectors, and is using their families in propaganda campaigns.
“Waitresses who entered South Korea out of their free will are not people subject to an appeal for protection of personal safety,” the National Intelligence Service and the Unification Ministry said. “The North's claim is absurd in that it could dismantle the system of North Korean defectors' entry into the South and their protection.” Unification Ministry spokesman Chung Joon-hui said, “The North Korean waitresses are undergoing the due course for legal protection, which is designed to support their settlement in South Korean society.”
“If this is how it works, whenever North Korean defectors come to South Korea, and if someone who claims that he or she has been commissioned by the defectors’ families in the North file a lawsuit, the court should determine whether those defectors voluntary defected or not. It is like conducting collective interrogation of the defectors in public before North Korea," a South Korean government source said. "If so, we doubt whether any North Koreans will dare to defect to the South.”
The Minbyun’s demand reflects its strong distrust in the South Korean government and the NIS. A source in the judicial community said that other controversial issues are how the power of attorneys for the defectors’ families in the North, which the Minbyun acquired from an American citizen based in China to seek personal protection, was written and the illegality of the process through which it was acquired. Experts say that those cases should not escalate into dispute over ideology and division of national opinion.