20 Koreans sentenced to death in China

August 10, 2014
Death Penalty

China executed three Korean nationals last week by lethal injection, for drug offenses, despite repeated pleas for clemency from the Korean government, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. (Newsis)

By Yi Whan-woo

About 20 South Korean nationals are death row inmates in China, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Declining to give the exact number, the ministry said the prisoners had been convicted of felonies, including drug offenses and murder.

“We can’t give the exact figure because of privacy issues,” a ministry official said Friday on condition of anonymity. “However, we want to stress that a consul was present at every trial and confirmed the Chinese courts’ rulings were made in fair and objective manners.”

He also said the Chinese authorities have suspended the execution of a number of South Korean death row convicts, adding “they were likely to avoid execution.”

The 20 death row inmates do not include three men who were executed last week for smuggling and trafficking in methamphetamines, the ministry said.

Two of them, identified only by their surnames, Kim and Baek, were killed by lethal injection Wednesday. This is the first time since 2004 that China has executed a Korean national, according to the government.

On Thursday, another South Korean drug criminal, indentified as Jang, was also put to death.

Such deaths raised concerns over Seoul’s response to Beijing which the major political parties claim is “passive.”

Noh Kwang-il, a ministry spokesman, said wat is regrettable that the executions took place despite repeated pleas for clemency from the government.

A ruling Saenuri Party spokesman Park Dae-chul said the government still needs “to convincingly explain that it did its best to save Korean nationals.”

Yoo Ki-hong, a spokesman for the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD), echoed this view, saying “the government should be blamed for its incompetence in protecting its own people.”

“The word regrettable reflects the country’s passive attitude toward China,” Yoo said.

The ministry said the court rulings on the three were made transparently, adding its consuls found no discrimination against them nationals during their trials.

In particular, he cited that producing or trading more than 1 kilogram of opium or 50 grams of methamphetamine or heroin is subject to heavy punishment in China.

Kim, 53, was convicted of smuggling a total of 14.8 kilograms of methamphetamines into China between 2010 and 2011, during 14 trips there from North Korea.

Baek, 45, bought 12.3 kilograms of the drug from Kim and distributed it to drug rings in South Korea.

Jang, 56, was arrested in 2009 for trafficking 11.9 kilograms of methamphetamines.

“We closely followed whether the judges discriminated against our nationals compared to Chinese people or other foreigners in such cases.” the ministry official said.

“There were no such flaws in the court rulings. However, several media reports argued that the government could have prevented the death penalty being carried out on the three men.

“Unlike the United Kingdom or other Western countries, we can’t raise an objection against China for practicing the death penalty because such punishment is still effective there,” the official said.

He was referring to a series of recent executions carried out since 2009 against foreign drug dealers in China, including one British citizen.

The United Kingdom is one of the 98 countries that have abolished the death penalty against all crimes, according to Amnesty International, a multinational civic group fighting for the abolition of capital punishment. The U.K. protested to China for its ruling, saying its national was mentally ill.

In its latest report, titled “Death Sentences and Executions 2013,” Amnesty International grouped South Korea as one of the states that retain the death penalty. It cited South Korea imposed two death sentences last year although it has not executed anyone since December 1997.