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State ordered to compensate fisherman in forged spy case
SEOUL, Sept. 4 (Yonhap) -- A Seoul court has ordered the state to compensate a South Korean fisherman who was falsely accused of spying for North Korea and spent 15 years behind bars in the 1980s and 1990s, court officials said Tuesday.

   The fisherman, identified only by his surname Cheong, was abducted in 1965 by the communist state along with 109 other fishermen while fishing in the Yellow Sea and released one month later.

   In 1982, Cheong was taken into custody by Seoul's intelligence agency without an arrest warrant and tortured for 13 days. The following year, he was again apprehended by the predecessor of the National Intelligence Service and confessed to espionage charges during an investigation after undergoing torture for 38 days. His wife and brother were also tortured and gave false testimony.

   Cheong was indicted for spying for the communist regime, in violation of the National Security Law which prohibits unauthorized contact with or activities sympathetic to the North, and was sentenced to lifetime imprisonment in 1984.

   He served 15 years in prison before being released on parole in 1998 but remained under government surveillance.

   In 2009, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a special committee established in 2005 to investigate past human rights violations, ruled that Cheong's case had been fabricated.

   The 71-year-old Cheong and six of his family members filed a suit against the government seeking compensation after being acquitted of the trumped-up spy charges in January of last year.

   The Seoul Central District Court has ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and ordered the government to pay 2.5 billion won (US$2.2 million) in compensation for inflicting mental and physical losses, officials said.

   "After arresting him without a warrant, the authorities tortured him to obtain a false confession and coerced witnesses to make false testimonies," Judge Rhee Woo-jae said in his ruling. "The court also handed down a guilty verdict without verifiable evidence."

   "Even after being released on parole, the victim was monitored by law enforcement agencies," he added. "This is illegal conduct in which the state infringed upon the victim's basic rights."

   Hundreds of South Koreans have been abducted by North Korea since the Korean War ended in an armistice in 1953, according to the Unification Ministry. Pyongyang denies kidnapping them or holding anyone against their will.

   khj@yna.co.kr
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