A group of prominent North Korean escapees and activists on Wednesday called on the Italian and South Korean governments to take steps to secure the safety of DPRK defector diplomat Jo Song Gil.
South Korean authorities have said that the whereabouts of Jo, who was reported earlier in the month to have fled the North Korean embassy in Italy in November, are unknown.
A coalition of South Korean activists, defectors, and former lawmakers – including prominent DPRK defector diplomat Thae Yong-ho – was formed Wednesday in order to support Jo and urge Seoul to offer him protection, a press release said.
“Today we established the ‘Citizens’ Coalition in Support for North Korean Diplomat Jo Song-gil and his Family’s Journey to Republic of Korea’ and call upon the Korean and Italian governments to protect their security and facilitate their safe residence,” that statement reads.
Jo – who served as chargé d’affaires for the North Korean embassy in Rome – is believed to have defected following the end of his four-year term in the role late last year.
Though his whereabouts are unknown, the Italian newspaper La Republicca reported last week that he is seeking asylum in the United States.
The Citizens’ Coalition on Wednesday said that Seoul must ensure his safety should he seek to come to South Korea, expressing concerns that recent developments in “inter-Korean and U.S.-North Korean relations” could result in a reluctance to grant him asylum.
“Jo Song-gil and his family have the freedom to choose their place of asylum, and since they are the natural Korean citizens, they deserve the the right to be protected by the Korean government,” the statement says.
“In the case that Jo Song-gil and his family want to come to Korea, we urge Korean government to take a pro-active stance in providing safe journey to Korea.”
Thae Yong-ho, who defected with his family from the North Korean embassy in London in 2016, over the weekend issued an open letter to his erstwhile colleague, urging him to come to South Korea.
“If you come to South Korea, the day when our suffering colleagues and North Korean citizens are liberated from the fetters would be moved forward,” Thae wrote, saying that coming to the South was a “duty, not a choice” for high-profile defectors.
“If you come to Seoul, even more of our colleagues would follow suit, and the unification would be accomplished by itself.”
Thae’s defection was seen as a major blow to the North Korean state, and the former deputy ambassador has been outspoken in his criticism of Kim Jong Un’s government since his departure.
Jo’s defection has been widely speculated to be equally damaging, with multiple reports stating that officials at the DPRK embassy in Rome were also involved in facilitating shipments of luxury goods to the DPRK in contravention of UN Security Council (UNSC) sanctions.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: Parrocchia di Farra di Soligo
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