Unprecedented Call to Stop Execution in North Korea

Michael Ireland | ASSIST News Service | Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Unprecedented Call to Stop Execution in North Korea

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NORTH KOREA (ANS) -- In an unprecedented move, family and activists have called upon the international community to intervene to abort the execution of a named North Korean man, Mr Son Jong Nam.

According to a media release, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) has joined with multiple agencies that protested today outside the government complex in South Korea in calling for "efforts to rescue Son Jong Nam, who has been sentenced to public execution."

The appeal comes after Mr Son’s brother, Son Jong Hoon, received information via a relative. He reported: "My brother is sentenced to public execution and even family members cannot visit him."

CSW says this is the first time that an appeal has been issued to prevent the known execution of a named individual in North Korea from taking place. Five North Korean defector organizations working for human rights in North Korea issued a joint statement on April 4 urging for intervention to stop the planned execution. They have now broadened their activities to ask the international community to intervene to raise the case.

The joint agency statement reports that Mr Son (48) is imprisoned in the basement of the National Security Agency in Pyongyang and is "practically dead from horrible torture."

CSW reports that Mr Son is accused of betraying his country and sharing information with South Koreans.

"It is believed the charges are grounded in his visit to China where he met with his brother and spoke about life in North Korea and, possibly, in his connection to Christianity. He had also received financial assistance for his survival from his brother," CSW states.

At a press conference reported by The Daily NK, his brother, Son Jong Hoon (43), stated: "In China, I only talked to him about how my siblings were doing and what North Koreans think of the Kim Jong Il regime. He shouldn’t be executed for the crime of betrayal or espionage. His execution needs to be stopped."

CSW says Mr Son defected from North Korea in 1997 with his wife, son and brother. He attended Church in China and became a Christian – a serious crime in North Korea. While his brother was successful in reaching South Korea in 2002, Son Jong Nam was repatriated in April 2001 and imprisoned for three years in the Ham-Gyung-Buk area prison camp in North Korea. He was released on parole in May 2004 after the intervention of influential contacts. He was expelled to Chongjin where he worked at a rocket research institute.

The CSW report continues: "In May 2004 Mr Son was able to meet his brother in China and return to North Korea. However the individual in Musan who helped him travel to China informed on him to the Musan National Security Agency. The National Security Office in Musan asked their colleagues in Pyongyang to arrest Mr Son and he was taken in by the secret police in January 2006 as he was leaving his younger sister’s house in Pyongyang. Those close to him have been exiled from Pyongyang.

CSW adds: "Those closest to the situation, including Son Jong Hoon, are now calling for the wider international community to raise its voice to appeal for the life of Mr Son. The statement from the North Korean defector organizations states: 'Organizations including Association of North Korean Defectors, Democracy Network against North Korean Gulag, Free North Korean Broadcasting and 8,000 North Koreans are asking to stop the public execution of Son Jong Nam. … Mr Son is currently facing critical danger. By raising the consciousness of the international community, we may be able to save Mr Son.' "

CSW's International Advocate, Elizabeth Batha, who has gathered extensive first hand testimony from numerous torture victims and eyewitnesses of public execution, stated: "We are deeply concerned for the life and welfare of Mr Son Jong Nam. North Korea practices brutal torture and it is hard to imagine the pain and suffering that will already have been inflicted upon him. We urge the international community to match the bravery and boldness of those who have decided to take this unprecedented step of announcing this to the outside world. We hope that those in a position of influence will be unstinting in strongly urging the North Koreans to abort their plans to carry out this unjust execution."

At the press conference, Son Jong Hoon responded to enquiries about the date of the public execution, which had been suggested might be scheduled for mid-April, saying: "The date for the execution is only announced for murder and other common crimes. For political crimes and treason, the date is usually not announced beforehand because it might have an undesirable impact on the people. They carry out the execution on an arbitrary date." However he said he had heard from a high level source from North Korea that the execution would be carried out sometime in April.

CSW states it is not known whether the execution has happened. Obtaining such information from inside North Korea is obviously a difficult and dangerous business. Although there is uncertainty about the situation it is hoped that the limited coverage of the case that occurred in South Korea will have been effective in delaying final action by North Korea.

Mr Son Jong Nam was born in Sadong, Soryongdong, Pyongyang and served his full military term as a non-commissioned officer at the Security Protection Headquarters from October 1975 – May 1983. On 20th January 1998 Mr Son’s sister-in-law was investigated by the secret police while pregnant. During the interrogation she was kicked in the stomach and she miscarried. Mr Son brought the matter before the Central People’s Committee, but he was put under pressure for his actions and told to leave. This led to his disillusionment with the regime and his decision to leave North Korea followed shortly afterwards.

Background on North Korea's human rights record
North Korea's human rights record is ranked amongst the very worst in the world, CSW says.

CSW continues: "It was the focus of a General Assembly resolution in November, reflecting mounting international awareness and concern over the seriousness of what is taking place behind closed doors in the country. Egregious torture and public executions have been amongst the most serious of these concerns. The first ever footage of North Korean executions was shown last year at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and on BBC and other channels. It showed a typical scene of a North Korean execution: a very brief summary trial with no right of defense and almost immediate pronouncement of the death sentence; the tying of the victims to poles and the shooting of the victims by three gunshots from three marksmen."

© 2006 ASSIST News Service, used with permission