Foreign ministry under fire over response to activist's torture claim
Korea's foreign ministry came under fire Friday for failing to take proper diplomatic actions against China when it first learned of the alleged abuse of a prominent activist in Chinese custody, following the emergence of a new claim that he was tortured with electric shocks.
The activist Kim Young-hwan, who was expelled from China and returned home last week, publicly admitted on Wednesday that he suffered from both physical abuse and sleep deprivation during his three-month detention in China, but didn't reveal details of the alleged abuse.
More details emerged earlier in the day as local newspapers, citing activists who were detained along with Kim in China, reported that electro-shock and other torture methods were used on Kim in the first month of his detention.
Kim and three other activists were arrested on March 29 in northeastern China for apparently helping North Korean defectors. Chinese authorities denied the four activists proper access to consular and legal services until April 26.
In the second interview with South Korean consular officials on June 11, Kim reportedly said that he suffered "electro-shock torture and beatings," but the South's foreign ministry did not publicly raise the issue with China at the time, according to the published news reports.
"There must have been intense abusive acts in the first month of detention, when they demanded access to consular service and exercised the right to remain silent," Choi Hong-jae, a spokesman for a coalition of civic groups which campaigned for the release of the activists, told Yonhap News Agency by telephone.
"But the government's efforts to prevent such abusive acts were insufficient," Choi said.
Choi criticized the ministry's initial consular response for being "too naive or insufficient despite China's deceptive attitude at that time."
Ministry officials said they asked the Chinese government "several times" to confirm the torture claim by Kim after the June 11 interview, but China simply denied the claim.
Rep. Ha Tae-kyung of the ruling Saenuri Party called the government's response to the activists' situation "disappointing."
"As they spoke of abusive acts, the government should have made efforts to find the truth, even though China denied it," Ha told Yonhap in a separate telephone interview.
Ministry spokeswoman Han Hye-jin told reporters on Thursday that the government will demand an apology and other diplomatic actions from China if the abuse or torture claims prove true.
"If the claim proves true, we will demand China apologize and take stern action to prevent such an incident from happening again," Han said.
The 49-year-old Kim, now a senior researcher for the Seoul-based civic group Network for North Korean Democracy and Human Rights, was a former South Korean proponent of North Korea's guiding "juche" philosophy of self-reliance.
But he later renounced his pro-North Korean ideology and became active in projects to raise awareness about the North's dismal human rights record. (Yonhap)