Date
23 January 2017
Armed plainclothes men were seen at the lobby of the Far East Finance Center, where the South Korean consulated is located, while several Emergency Unit vehicles were stationed outside the building. Photo: HKEJ
Armed plainclothes men were seen at the lobby of the Far East Finance Center, where the South Korean consulated is located, while several Emergency Unit vehicles were stationed outside the building. Photo: HKEJ

North Korean defector seeks refuge at Seoul’s consulate in HK

Police have stepped up security at the South Korean consulate in Admiralty after a North Korean defector is said to have sought refuge there since two weeks ago.

The government has yet to comment on the case, which, under the Basic Law, will be handled by the central government as it involves foreign affairs, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reported.

But before any decision is made on how the defector should be treated, Hong Kong has the responsibility to make sure the defector, said to be a man, is safe as it did for Edward Snowden, the former US spy agency contractor who leaked details of Washington’s mass surveillance programs, when he fled to the city in June 2013.

There were rumors that Pyongyang might take action on the South Korean consulate.

Government sources revealed that Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has ordered the Security Bureau and the Hong Kong Police Force to protect the man, with members of the Counter Terrorism Response Unit now deployed inside and outside the Far East Finance Center on Harcourt Road, where Seoul’s mission is located.

Armed plainclothes men were seen at the lobby of the building Wednesday night while several Emergency Unit vehicles were stationed outside, Ming Pao Daily reported, adding that reporters and the general public were barred from entering the fifth floor, where the consulate is holding office.

The police department declined to comment.

At the moment, there are several unverified versions of information about the defector’s background.

One is that he is an 18-year-old student who came to Hong Kong two weeks ago with a North Korean delegation that attended an academic competition and that he is from a family with military connections.

Another version is he is in his 40s with a military background, while it is also said there could be more than one defector, according to Apple Daily.

Owen Lau, co-founder of North Korean Defectors Concern group, was quoted by Ming Pao as saying that the best way to deal with the case is to let the South Korean consulate make its own decision, suggesting that the Hong Kong government stay out of it to avoid any possible diplomatic crisis.

He suspected the defector probably chose to seek refuge in Hong Kong on the belief that he is less likely to be deported back to North Korea from here.

There have been cases wherein Beijing sent North Koreans seeking political asylum in China back to their home country, where they were later incarcerated, tortured and even executed, Ming Pao said, citing a UN Human Rights Report.

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TL/AC/CG

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