NATIONAL

Ex-fishermen found innocent in retrial, 49 years after abduction to N. Korea

By Yonhap
  • Published : Oct 11, 2017 - 11:19
  • Updated : Oct 11, 2017 - 11:19
JEONJU -- A South Korean court has acquitted an elderly former fisherman of charges of violating the now-defunct anticommunist law, 49 years after he was abducted to North Korea while fishing near the western sea border.

The Jeonju District Court ruled in a retrial of the 71-year-old man, Park Choon-hwan, that he was convicted based on proof extorted through torture and illegal detention. Park's now-deceased colleagues, who had been convicted of the same charges, were also found innocent.

Park's ordeal began when he and two others were abducted to the North in 1968 while fishing for yellow corvina aboard their boat, the Youngchang, near the western sea border. They were released from the North four months later, but then authorities in the staunchly anti-communist South Korea charged them with espionage.

Former fisherman Park Choon-hwan (L) (Yonhap)

Park was sentenced in 1972 to seven years in prison on spy charges. He served out the term, but was indicted again for violating the then anti-communist law and fisheries law and sentenced to eight months in prison.

The 1972 conviction was cleared in a retrial in 2011, and the second conviction was nullified this week.

Park has said that upon his return from the North, he suffered various torture at the hands of police and made false confessions, saying he was a North Korean spy and tried to convince a friend to become a spy too. That friend was also convicted and served a prison term.

"I was found to be completely innocent, but I feel unfair as I'm this old," Park said. "I feel very badly about the government."

Park's lawyer, Lee Myong-choo, said that about 1,500 South Korean fishermen were punished after being abducted to the North, but only about 10 of them have been cleared of the convictions.

"We have a long way to go, and in the case of the Youngchang, we're going to seek compensation from the government," he said. (Yonhap)