02/02/2023, 16.50
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South Korean activists arrested for espionage in favour of North Korea

by Guido Alberto Casanova

Five pro-reunification South Koreans are accused of working with North Korea to destabilise the South. Investigators claim they communicated through coded messages. Left-wing groups reject this, saying that the accused were simply engaged in public protests, and that the government is only trying to throw mud at the opposition.


Seoul (AsiaNews) – South Korea’s greatest espionage case of recent years is set to open soon after five South Koreans came under investigation for unauthorised contacts with North Korea.

In South Korea, this is a very serious charge, because the accused risk life in prison and even the death penalty under existing national security legislation.

Over the past few months, police activity suggested that an investigation was underway. Last November, the National Intelligence Service (NIS) searched the premises of a group of activists publicly known for their pro-reunification views.

Four members of the group were taken into custody last Saturday, and yesterday a court approved their arrest, citing flight risks and possible evidence tampering. The four are suspected of working with North Korea to destabilise South Korea.

The four allegedly formed an anti-government group as early as 2016, suspected of initiating various contacts with North Korean agents stationed in Southeast Asia who ordered them to stir up anti-US and anti-Japanese sentiments in South Korea.

They are equally alleged of communicating with North Korean spies using steganographic techniques to conceal their messages. For the NIS and the police believe, the group’s headquarters were used by similar organisations located elsewhere in the country.

Another suspect, head of a progressive association, was charged with a similar offence in Jeolla-buk province. He allegedly met with North Korean agents on several occasions in Beijing and Hanoi between 2013 and 2019, and communicated with them via email to report on South Korean domestic issues.

This espionage case comes just days after police raided the headquarters of South Korea's largest trade union, which has been accused of being infiltrated by North Korean agents.

According to left-wing groups though, this is an attempt by Yoon Suk-yeol’s conservative government to throw mud on the opposition.

For the defenders of activist groups and trade unions, the latter did not break any law and their activities are nothing more than protests and public demonstrations.

“We will clarify everything in court,” said a lawyer representing the activists.

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