To the Editors:
In mid-January, 1974, five well-known South Korean literary figures were arrested on suspicion of having committed espionage activities for North Korea. At their trials, which are now in progress, they have been accused of violating the National Security Law and the Anti-Communist Law. Each of these charges carries a penalty of up to seven years at hard labor.
Amnesty International has accepted these cases for investigation because we believe the defendants were arrested on false or inadequately documented charges in order to suppress intellectual dissent in South Korea. Organizations and individuals in Germany, Japan, Norway, and the United States are involved in the investigation.
We of Amnesty International USA have accepted responsibility for Chang Byong Hi, a literary critic and lecturer on South Korean literature at the Kurmin College in Seoul and chairman of the Critic Committee of the Korean Literary Association. Others who have been charged in the case include Lee Ho Chul and Chong Ul Byong, novelists and members of the South Korean Pen Club, and Yim Hun Yong and Kim Uh Chong, literary critics and lecturers on Korean literature at Chungang and Kyung Lu Universities in Seoul.
Chang Byong Hi and his co-defendants were among a group of sixty-one novelists, essayists, and poets who issued a public statement on January 7, 1974, calling for amendment of the Constitution. Despite government disapproval and the possibility of harsh reprisals, these men declared that they could no longer remain silent “as defenders of the human spirit and spokesmen for the national conscience.” On January 8, President Park decreed that anyone criticizing the Constitution or advocating its revision would be arrested, court-martialed, and imprisoned for up to fifteen years.
Given this background, we have reason to believe that the charges against Chang Byong Hi and his colleagues may be a test case. If the Park regime can get away with the prosecution of these five men without any pressure from the outside world, there will be no limit on future suppression of writers and intellectuals expressing any criticism of Park and his government.
Because this is a case of great urgency and significance, it is important that letters of concern about Chang Byong Hi and his co-defendants be written by the literary community and all men and women concerned with freedom of thought. Letters should be sent to:
President Park Chung Hee
Seoul, Republic of Korea.
Letters should also be sent to the Embassy of the Republic of Korea, Washington, DC. It would be greatly appreciated if copies of letters were sent to this writer. Since the salaries of the employed defendants were suspended or reduced, Amnesty International is organizing relief activities for them. Contributions to the relief fund may be sent to AI USA, care of this writer.
Amnesty International USA
50 Lopez Avenue
San Francisco, California 94116
June 27, 1974