It took 1,024 days. Yoo Woo-seong, who had been charged with espionage, finally was declared innocent by the Supreme Court on October 29. Months after the final verdict, Yoo remains unsure of what he will do next and, based on his experiences, is still fearful of reprisals.
“They harassed me for three years, and nobody apologized to me. Every hardship that my family and I underwent ended with the short phrase ‘dismiss the (prosecution’s) appeal,’” Yoo told NK News.
These days he stays at home.
“It is impossible to get a job, because my identity has been revealed to the media,” he said.
Instead of a job, he has received two notifications from the government and prosecution, that he, no longer recognized as a defector, should return his resettlement aid and house.
“There are 40 ethnic Korean defectors from China (hwagyo) in South Korea, and there’s no specific regulation as to whether hwagyo are accepted as a South Korean citizen or not. I cannot go to China, because Chinese authorities have already erased my citizenship,” he said, stating that his hwagyo origin had not been a problem in the past, when he was investigated in 2006.
Yoo also has to return 25 million won ($21,000) of the resettlement aid provided for defectors.
He said social minorities with little in the way of family, educational background or a hometown in South Korea, have been targeted as spies.
“The people who fabricate espionage cases have not been punished. It is just ‘unfortunate’ when the fabrication is revealed, and they are promoted when it is not revealed. Is it okay to get promoted by destroying another’s life?” he said.
‘The people who fabricate espionage cases have not been punished’
This happening was the joint work of the National Intelligence Service, prosecution, ethnic Korean collaborators and a personal vendetta.
The beginning of his hardship was the defection of Yoo’s younger sister, Yoo Ga-ryeo, also of Chinese citizenship. She arrived South Korea by plane on October 30 2012 and was detained in solitary confinement.
During this time she said her brother was a spy.
“I was directed to enter China and receive materials from my brother in early March 2011 from the vice chief of the (North Korean) State Political Security Department (SPSD). Arriving in China, I checked the materials from my brother, and it was two lists of defectors and letter to the vice chief of 5h3 SPSD,” Yoo Ga-ryeo’s testimony reads.
Following her testimony, Yoo Woo-seong, who had been serving as a government official at Seoul city, was arrested on January 10, 2013.
But upon her release she recanted her testimony, saying she had been physically and psychologically tormented while in custody.
“I am so sorry to my brother, and hope to tell him that your sister was wrong,” she said at the press conference organized by Lawyers for Democratic Society in April 27 2013.
“I was placed in solitary confinement for six months. I couldn’t meet with anybody except NIS officials … The female official kicked me repeatedly. One official punched me in the head with his pinch and slapped me in the face.”
TRUTH AND FALSEHOOD
This incident was triggered by a defector’s tip-off to the NIS. A female defector in her 40s who used to live with Yoo’s father in North Hamkyong Province, North Korea in 2010 reported to the NIS that, Yoo Ga-ryeo, at around the time of her arrival, received a defectors’ list from her brother and passed it to the SPSD.
However, her testimony and interview with the Dong-a Ilbo came under suspicion due to her ex-husband’s confession few months later.
“I’ve heard many times that she has someone to get revenge on in South Korea. That person was Yoo Woo-seong,” he said in remarks carried by South Korea’s online Ohmynews outlet. He said the report was written with NIS officials, and she received 20 million won to conduct the interview and court testimony.
Three trials followed. The first, in August 2013, declared Yoo innocent of the charge of violating the National Security Law, but finding him guilty of violating the passport law. Yoo’s picture, which the NIS argued was taken in North Korea, was revealed to have been taken in Yanji, China.
The prosecution submitted additional documents allegedly proving Yoo’s entrance into North Korea twice in 2006. Later in February 2014, however, the Chinese government confirmed that the documents submitted by the South Korean prosecution were fakes.
The incident turned fatal. An ethnic Chinese informant of the NIS killed himself, leaving a note acknowledging having “receive(d) money from the NIS to make a fake document.” On the wall, he wrote “NIS” in his blood. The NIS declared its apology on March 9, 2014, and an additional suicide, this time by an intelligence official, on March 22 was accompanied with a note stating that “NIS agents’ reputation has been undermined.”
The final judgment from the court in October recognized the wrongdoing of NIS officials, a first – claiming that her incrimination of her brother came only due to harsh treatment, including psychological and other forms of mistreatment.
The attorneys who have observed Yoo and other espionage cases said the reason for each case is different, implying that it is hard to expect a target.
“The prosecutor had already figured out Yoo’s Chinese identity when they investigated in 2006 for visiting North Korea, so Yoo assumed things were all right, then invited his sister. He maintained good relationship with NIS agents, even asking that they ensure his sister’s safety,” Jang Kyeong-wook, the attorney who defended Yoo, told NK News.
Kim Ki-nam, who participated on the UN Human Rights Committee as a civil society member, said the NIS’s monopoly on information makes it easy for them to create narratives.
“The NIS officials based in foreign embassies collect information, and some defectors stay there and provide their backgrounds,” Kim told NK News. He added that physiological techniques during investigations also debase defectors.
Song Ji-young, a professor of Singaporean Management University who has observed defectors’, discussed the NIS’s incentives in Yoo’s case.
“National security and anti-espionage are the reasons for the NIS’s existence. The basis of the organization is only maintained by the existence of spies,” Song told NK News.
The UN Human Rights Committee first dealt with the detention of defectors by the NIS in its report released November 5.
“The State party should ensure that DPRK ‘defectors’ are detained for the shortest possible period, and that detainees are given access to counsel during the entire length of their detention, that counsel be available during interrogations, and that the duration and methods of interrogation are subject to strict limits which comply with international human rights standards,” the report urged.
“If something is doubtful during the investigation, the procedure becomes a criminal procedure. There are legal regulations which should be ensured during the criminal procedure, and such things are not respected. We couldn’t figure out what is not regulated. This was known during Yoo’s petition for protection of personal liberty,” Kim said during a presentation on November 25 in Seoul.
Human rights abuse during the investigation has been noted since Yoo’s case, including by a Korean Bar Association report released in April 2014.
“The investigation period is different person to person, but they undergo it for approximately one week, totally blocked off from the outside and face an NIS official continuously in solitary confinement,” the report reads.
‘(Defectors) are positioned to feel “grateful” to the Republic of Korean government, which accepts illegal residents’
Considering the status of defectors, who’ve never been educated about human rights in North Korea, it is not easy for them to raise the issue of human rights violations.
“They are positioned to feel ‘grateful’ to the Republic of Korean government, which accepts illegal residents,” the report reads.
According to a survey from Seoul’s National Human Rights Commission in 2009, 10.9 percent of female defectors said they were verbally abused during the investigation. Among them, approximately 30 percent answered that they couldn’t understand why. Research from the Gyeonggi-do Family and Women Research Institute in 2012 reveals 23.3 percent of the defectors had heard crude language and 16.8 percent of them had heard cursing.
In the past ethnic Korean youth residing in Japan, who were confused about their identity as residents without citizenship and who later traveled to Korea to study have reported similar treatment to Yoo’s. Kwon Hyuk-tae, professor of Sungkonghoe University said there have been 120 “ethnic Korean political prisoners from Japan.”
“The person, targeted as a spy through detailed investigation of intelligence organization, are suddenly arrested. They were forced to write a long ‘resume’ (documenting) since birth … Under the this fearful atmosphere, by repeatedly writing resumes, there are typically ‘hints’ such as family, friends, student activities and social organizations one was involved in. Then ‘hints’ are exaggerated for few decade days of pressed investigation, and become an enormous arraignment,” Kim Hyo-soon, the president of Forum Truth and Justice, the group of experts to reveal the truth of past affairs, said on October 19.
Last November 22, victims of the fabrication cases gathered in Osaka, Japan, on the 40th anniversary of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency’s arrest declaration of 14 spies. Twelve of them were ethnic Koreans from Japan.
In July last year, the NIS declared that its investigation system had been reformed, changing its name of the Central Joint Investigation Center to Protect North Korean Defectors. It also designated a human rights protector to provide legal counsel and monitor for human rights violation.
Experts, however, said the independence of the protector is a critical point.
“It is important whether that person can serve as an attorney or not, and approach all information and each facility to provide support for the defectors. I think (they can’t),” said Kim, Yoo’s attorney. He also noted defectors’ lack of understanding of the Korean legal process, emphasizing the necessity of thorough education as to their legal rights.
Song argued that defectors should not be treated as potential criminals.
“I agree that the investigation should be processed in a different manner from the ordinary one, but basic human rights regulations should be ensured, such as the right to report violations and unfair treatment.”
NIS declined NK News‘ requests for comment regarding the Yoo case.
Images: Ole Jakob Skåtun