Korean pastor held for violating security act

A progressive Protestant minister was detained by the police in Jeonju, North Jeolla Province, on late Monday evening for not reporting his personal information to local authorities after being released from prison a year ago.

Officials at Wansan Police Station said Rev. Han Sang-ryeol, 64, has violated the Security Surveillance Act and refused to cooperate with the authorities since completing his jail term last year.

The act stipulates that those sentenced to jail for breaching the National Security Law must report their whereabouts, family relations, occupation and financial status to a local police office within seven days of leaving a prison.

Han, who was arrested for violating the National Security Law in 2010 for entering North Korea without the South Korean government's permission, is subject to the surveillance act. The pastor was sentenced to three years in prison after he returned to the South through the border village of Panmunjeom, Gyeonggi Province, in August 2010.

Han, who stayed in North Korea for 70 days, was accused of praising the communist regime. He was released last August.

The police said Tuesday that they detained Han with a warrant for ignoring their summonses for months.

"We have made several requests to Pastor Han to fulfil his duty of reporting his personal information to the police, but detained him for disobeying the order," an official said.

"We will decide whether to request (for the court to issue) an arrest warrant after completing questioning," he said, adding that the pastor is exercising his right to remain silent.

Civic groups, however, protested against the police for detaining Han, claiming that the Security Surveillance Act is an unjust law that violates "one's ideology and conscience."

"The act that obligates a person to report his or her whereabouts every three months is an immoral law that infringes on one's ideology and conscience," said a protester.

"Pastor Han has lived as a peace activist who resisted unfair oppression and bad laws, and has expressed his opinion that he couldn't obey the Security Surveillance Act."

Han is known in Korea as a politically progressive pastor. He led civic protest movements against the military regimes in the '70s and '80s and later turned his attention to the unification of Korea.

In the 2000s, Han entered North Korea on several occasions, including in 2005, when he travelled to Pyongyang to join a cultural event marking the 60th anniversary of Korea's liberation from Japan's colonial rule.

With his wife Rev. Lee Kang-sil, Han launched an underground church to support unconverted long-term political prisoners arrested for expressing ideological support for North Korea.