Sat, Sep 23, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Seoul rejects plea to save alleged spy


South Korea's state human rights watchdog said yesterday it had dismissed an appeal by a North Korean defector to help save his brother, who allegedly was sentenced to death in the communist nation for spying for the South.

The Human Rights Commission said it turned down the petition because it went beyond its jurisdiction. It said it conducted a preliminary investigation, but was unable to get information on the case from government agencies in the South.

The defector, Son Jong-hoon, filed the appeal in April after learning from an acquaintance in North Korea that his elder brother, Jong-nam, 48, was awaiting execution on spying charges for meeting him in China.

The petition was largely seen as symbolic and few expected the commission would act on it.

"We've judged that it goes beyond the scope of our investigation because the alleged victim is a North Korean and the alleged offender is the North Korean regime," a commission official said on condition of anonymity, citing policy.

Son, the petitioner, expressed disappointment at the decision but said it was no surprise, considering Seoul's reluctance to speak out on the North Korean human rights issue.

"The government could have at least knocked the door of the North's government, either officially or unofficially," he said, adding that the South was a major aid provider to the impoverished North.

"I didn't expect the commission would do anything," he said. "The reason I started this campaign is to give the government a chance to raise the human rights issue with North Korea."

South Korea has largely remained silent on human rights in North Korea because of concerns it may rile the North, complicating efforts to persuade the country to address international concerns over its nuclear and missile programs.

North Korea is widely condemned by international groups as having one of the worst human rights records in the world.

In recent years, video footage smuggled from the North has claimed to show public executions, despite the country's insistence it respects human rights.

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