A South Korean human rights commission said on Monday it will investigate whether a dozen North Korean restaurant workers who defected to the South two years ago came of their own free will or were tricked or coerced by an intelligence agent.
In April 2016, the 12 waitresses and their manager left a North Korean state-run restaurant in China to come via Malaysia to South Korea. The Seoul government promptly announced their defection, but North Korea says they were abducted by South Korean agents and demands their repatriation.
The restaurant manager has previously told South Korean news agency Yonhap and other media that an agent from South Korea’s spy agency National Intelligence Service (NIS) used persuasion and threats to get him to enter the South with the workers. Some of the workers say they were unaware they were entering South Korea until they arrived at the South Korean embassy in Malaysia.
The independent National Human Rights Commission of Korea has mounted a first state probe into the case in the wake of calls by a liberal interest group of lawyers and from Tomas Ojea Quintana, the United Nations’ Human Rights Special Rappoteur on North Korea.