By Bae Ji-sook
Migrant workers' rights activist Minu was deported to his home country of Nepal, Friday, after having stayed here as an illegal alien for 17 years and seven months, according to the Ministry of Justice.
Human rights groups and liberal lawyers denounced the deportation as "an act against humanitarian principles."
Minu, whose real name is Minod Moktan, had been arrested and detained at the Hwaseong Immigration Processing Center since Oct. 8.
The ministry said he had attended numerous political events on issues such as the free trade agreement, U.S. beef imports and the crackdown on illegal alien protests.
"His deportation was to set an example of principle: abide by the rules," the ministry said in a press release.
However, the Lawyers for Democratic Society claimed that Minu was deported after an appeal against his arrest was filed. "The authorities didn't send a notice to his lawyers, which is clearly against the constitution," the liberal lawyers' group said.
The group has constantly demanded his release for his "contribution to promoting migrant workers' rights and the value of multicultural society."
Norma Kang Muico, researcher of East Asia at Amnesty International, also said that Minu's case should be dealt with in a more humanitarian way.
"It is true that his residency was not legal. But he is not a criminal," she said at a press conference last Wednesday. "What is important is that he had already become a member of the Korean society. I hope the Korean government could have given a little credit for that."
The Migrant Trade Union also criticized the government for targeting Minu out of political interest.
Minu first came to Korea on a tourist's visa. He worked at restaurants and had spoken up for his fellow migrant workers' rights. He is one of the founding members of the Migrant Workers' Television (MWTV) and has disclosed social prejudice and discrimination against foreign workers here as a video journalist.
He received the first-place culture minister's award in a writing contest for foreigners sponsored by state-run television network KBS.
He has also lectured at numerous universities and corporations to raise awareness for expats here, especially visiting here under the employment permit system or without any legal visa.