S. Korea court awards $2.2mn over false spy charges

A Seoul court on Tuesday awarded a fisherman compensation of more than $2 million for being tortured and imprisoned in the 1980s on false charges of spying for North Korea.

The Seoul Central District court ordered a payment of 2.45 billion won ($2.2 million) to the fisherman, identified as Cheong, and six of his family members named in the compensation suit, a court spokesman said.

Cheong, along with dozens of other fishermen, was briefly detained in the North in 1965 after they were seized while collecting shellfish on an islet close to the disputed sea border in the Yellow Sea.

Seventeen years later, in 1982, he was taken into custody by South Korea's military-backed government and grilled for 13 days by counter-espionage agents who accused him of spying for the North.

Released without charge, he was detained again the following year for 38 days, and ended up signing a confession under torture which led to his wife and brother confessing under similar duress.

Cheong, now 71, served 15 years in prison before being released on parole in 1998, after which he remained under surveillance.

"The investigators fabricated evidence and extracted false confessions through torture and threats," the court said in a statement.

"At that time the court also handed down a guilty verdict without verifiable evidence."

Cheong's innocence was confirmed by South Korea's Supreme Court in January last year, after which he and six family members filed for compensation.

Thousands of South Korean fishermen were captured and detained in the North in the decades following the end of the Korean War in 1953.

Most were returned to the South where, like Cheong, they often faced charges of having been recruited as North Korean spies.

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