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South Koreans Rally in Support of North Korean Logger Held in Russia


South Korean human rights activists are calling on the Russian government not to send a North Korean logger back to his homeland. The logger was arrested in eastern Russia this week.

Protesters gathered near the Russian Embassy in Seoul Friday, pleading Moscow to give United Nations refugee officials access to a North Korean in custody there.

Russian police arrested the 51-year-old North Korean logger, known by the pseudonym Yoo, this week in the eastern Russian city of Vladivostok. He was apparently on his way to meet a U.S. official regarding a request for asylum.

Peter Chung, head of a Seoul human rights group, says he thinks Russia plans to turn Yoo over to the North Korean consulate there. If that happens, he says, Yoo will be returned home and faces serious danger.

He says if Yoo is sent back to North Korea, there is a 100 percent chance of him being severely tortured or even executed.

North Korea is believed to send tens of thousands of low-wage loggers to work in Russia and neighboring countries, as part of the impoverished nation's efforts to earn hard currency. Working conditions are reported to be harsh for such workers.

Yoo's plight mirrors that of many other North Koreans who flee repression and food shortages.

The Russian and Chinese governments generally send any would-be defectors they find back to North Korea. Both hope to avoid a mass influx of impoverished North Koreans.

North Korea treats defectors as criminals. Human rights groups and defectors who have managed to reach safety in South Korea or elsewhere say those caught face years in prison camps or possible execution.

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