Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education



Front Page

World

UK

UK Politics

Business

Sci/Tech

Health

Education

Sport

Entertainment

Talking Point
On Air
Feedback
Low Graphics
Help

Monday, February 22, 1999 Published at 04:01 GMT


World: Asia-Pacific

Seoul frees long-term prisoners

The amnesty marks President Kim Dae-Jung's first year in power

South Korea's cabinet has approved the release of the man considered to be the world's longest-serving political prisoner.

Woo Yong-Gak, who is 71, was jailed in 1958 on charges of spying for North Korea.

He has spent most of the succeeding 41 years in solitary confinement and is thought to be in poor health.

The South Korean news agency Yonhap said he and 16 of his comrades will walk free from four jails across the country on Thursday to mark the end of the first year in office of President Kim Dae-Jung.


John Larkin of the Sydney Morning Herald: " Will be an emotional time"
They are all reported to have been jailed for at least 30 years and are serving life sentences for alleged espionage for North Korea or for holding North Korean sympathies.

They had been left out of two previous amnesties because of their persistent refusal to sign an oath of obedience to South Korea's laws.

The government announced an amnesty for 8,800 people altogether - most of them petty offenders with traffic convictions.

More than 1,500 prisoners are expected to be released.

President Kim Dae-Jung is himself a former dissident and political prisoner who was once sentenced to death by a military dictatorship.

Amnesty International pressure

Justice Minister Park Sang-Cheon admitted Seoul had bowed to pressure from human rights groups, and said the move would create "greater national harmony".

"We decided to release Woo Yong-Gak and 16 other long-term prisoners on humanitarian grounds to meet calls from Amnesty International and other groups for their release," he told a news conference.

The president waived the requirement for the political prisoners to sign the oath of obedience to the National Security Law which bans the display of any pro-North Korean sentiment.

North and South Korea remain technically at war following the 1950-53 conflict.

The 17 have consistently refused to sign the oath seeing it as an infringement of their freedom of speech.





Advanced options | Search tips




Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage | ©




Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia



Relevant Stories

15 Dec 97 | Korean elections 97
Kim Dae Jung: A political profile

01 Jan 99 | Asia-Pacific
Raid fuels South Korean spy row





Internet Links


South Korean embassy in the US

Korea Web Weekly

Amnesty International


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.




In this section

Indonesia rules out Aceh independence

DiCaprio film trial begins

Millennium sect heads for the hills

Uzbekistan voices security concerns

From Business
Chinese imports boost US trade gap

ICRC visits twelve Burmese jails

Falintil guerillas challenge East Timor peackeepers

Malaysian candidates named

North Korea expels US 'spy'

Holbrooke to arrive in Indonesia

China warns US over Falun Gong

Thais hand back Cambodian antiques