Follow-up of Mr. Choi Myung Bok

Choi’s legal status is still pending

On February 13, LFNKR received the following press release from the Human Rights Center “Memorial” in Russia.  Mr. Choi Myung Bok has managed to avoid the deportation.  However, his case is still pending a final decision.

LFNKR sincerely hopes that Mr. Choi will be granted refugee status as soon as possible or alternatively be allowed safe passage to a third country of refuge.


Lawyers of the Human Rights Center “Memorial” rescue from deportation North Korean citizen seeking asylum

On February 9, Olga Zeitlin and Yuri Serov, web lawyers of the Migration and Law Human Rights Center “Memorial,” blocked a court order. The court order would have forcibly returned Choi Myung Bok, a fugitive from a [North] Korean labor camp, to North Korea, where he would inevitably be sentenced to death for desertion and failure to return to his homeland. In 1999, the North Korean authorities sent Choi Myung Bok to Russia, to a labor camp for logging near the region of Tynda, Amur.

In 2002, Choi escaped from the camp and in recent years has been living in a civil marriage with a citizen of Russia in the city of Vsevolozhsk, Leningrad Region. The couple have two children together: boys aged 3 and 5 years old.

In 2015 and 2016 Choi Myung Bok tried several times, unsuccessfully, to appeal to the Federal Migration Service (then UVM) in St. Petersburg and Leningrad region regarding the recognition of his refugee status in Russia, but his application was refused. The FMS indicated to him that it was necessary for him to establish his identity.

On January 31, 2017 Choi Myung Bok was summoned to the Ministry of Internal Affairs in the Vsevolozhsk district of the Leningrad region, under allegations that he signed the papers for identification.

When he came to the police station, he realized that the call was a trap. He was presented with an administrative report detailing violations of migration law. The chairman of the Vsevolozhsk Municipal Court did not listen to him regarding his wife and children in Russia, and his arguments about the inevitable punishment by death for “high treason” (which is how the DPRK qualifies citizens who have escaped from labor camps without returning).

Lawyers understand that there was a very high risk in handing Choi over to law enforcement officials in North Korea before the court judgment became final, and therefore urgently appealed to the European Court of Human Rights, making an application of interim measures of protection (Rule 39 of the Rules of Court) to avoid the deportation of Choi.

The UNHCR, referring to well-known facts, recognized the high probability of risk for the murder of Choi Myung Bok if returned to the DPRK.

On February 9, 2017 a hearing of the Leningrad Regional Court was held. The court heard the defense position regarding the impossibility of repatriating Choi to North Korea, the circumstances of his family life, and the procedural irregularities in the proceedings.

The appellate court found that the actions of Choi Myung Bok were wrongly classified by the police and in the Vsevolozhsk Municipal Court, and therefore not only quashed the decision of the court of first instance, but completely discontinued the proceedings on an administrative violation.

On February 10 the court decision that Choi Myung Bok should be released was delivered to the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The Protection Court welcomes this decision and is pleased that the asylum-seeker, who was threatened with being handed over to North Korean authorities, will not be sent to his death and will be released.

However, lawyers are concerned about the legal status of Choi Myung Bok and his admission to the refugee status determination procedure, which he undoubtedly deserves.

We hope that the Government does not send a man to death and will grant the applicant asylum.

It should be noted that the HRC “Memorial” and the Civic Assistance Committee, as early as 2014, tried to prevent, at the preparatory stage, the conclusion of the Agreement concerning “the transmission and reception of persons who have entered illegally and are illegally staying on the territory of the Russian Federation and the Democratic People’s Republic.”

Since 2005, just over 200 citizens of the DPRK applied for asylum, but only two of them were granted refugee status. As demonstrated by the recent case of Kim in Moscow, FMS usually denies refuge to North Koreans, due to our trust in the power of the DPRK official missions which assure us that the fugitives will not be exposed to severe punishment in their homeland.

Protection for Kim lasted nearly four years at great cost to both organizations, as Kim was under the constant threat of extradition. Kim received temporary shelter shortly before an offer of acceptance by a third country, and left Russia at the end of 2016.

Despite the condemnation of the international community, this shameful agreement was signed on 2 February 2016 during the visit to Russia of a North Korean high-ranking official.