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South Korea Must Pay One Former Slave, Not Others

  • Associated Press

FILE - A man walks through a salt farm on Sinui Island, South Korea, April 3, 2014. A court ruled Sept. 8, 2017, that the South Korean government must pay 37 million won ($33,000) to a man who'd been held as a slave on the salt farm for several years and was stopped from escaping by police.

The South Korean government must pay 37 million won ($33,000) to a man who was enslaved on a salt farm for several years and was stopped from escaping by police, a court ruled Friday.

But the Seoul Central District Court rejected the compensation demands of seven other former salt farm slaves, saying the government’s responsibility over their cases was unclear.

More than 60 slaves, most of them with intellectual disabilities, were rescued from remote islands off South Korea’s southwestern coast following an investigation led by mainland police in 2014.

The Associated Press documented some of their stories in a yearlong investigation.

Dozens indicted

Dozens of farm owners and job brokers were indicted, but no police or officials were punished despite allegations some knew about the slavery.

Choi Jung Kyu, one of several lawyers representing the plaintiffs, said the lawyers will discuss with plaintiffs and their guardians before deciding whether to appeal. Lawsuits against the government over human rights abuses are rarely successful in South Korea, where the burden of proof in noncriminal cases is entirely put on the plaintiffs, who often lack information or resources.

The eight plaintiffs had sought a combined 240 million won ($213,000) in compensation from the government, saying that official negligence and police inaction prolonged their ordeals. The man who received compensation had escaped a salt farm in Sinui Island and sought the help of police, who instead called the farm owner to the station to take him back.

Rescued in 2014

Most of the salt farm slaves rescued in 2014 had been lured to the islands by “man hunters” and job brokers hired by salt farm owners, who would beat them into long hours of backbreaking labor and confine them at their houses for years while providing little or no pay.

The slavery was revealed in early 2014 when two police officers from the capital, Seoul, came to Sinui disguised as tourists and pulled off a clandestine operation to rescue one of the slaves who had been reported by his family as missing. That man’s compensation claim was rejected.

One of the Seoul police officers who rescued the man told The Associated Press they went undercover because of concerns about collaborative ties between the island’s police and salt farm owners. Local officials admitted to failures in properly monitoring the working and living conditions at salt farms.