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Japan-linked Korean ex death-row inmate acquitted of spying

This file photo taken in May 1998 shows Son Yoo Hyung (R) and his wife at a press conference at Kansai airport. He had returned to Japan for the first time in 17 years following his release on parole from prison in South Korea. (Kyodo)

SEOUL (Kyodo) -- A former South Korean resident of Japan, who had been convicted as a North Korean spy and sentenced to death in 1983 in South Korea, was acquitted Tuesday of illegally collecting intelligence, people once close to the now deceased man said.

    The Seoul High Court ruled that Son Yoo Hyung, who was detained in the South Korean capital in 1981 for allegedly working under agents from Pyongyang's ruling Workers Party of Korea, was not guilty.

    Son had been imprisoned for 17 years in South Korea until 1998, when he was released on parole. He died at 84 in 2014, and his family sought the retrial of the case.

    The same court had earlier determined in the retrial of Son's relatives and others, who were charged as his conspirators, that intelligence agents illegally detained Son for 45 days without a warrant, and thus records of his subsequent interrogations should not be admitted as evidence.

    From the 1970s to the 1980s, similar false accusation cases occurred in South Korea, which was then under military dictatorship, and at least 36 South Korean residents of Japan and their relatives were convicted of spying. They were acquitted in retrials.

    South Korean authorities at the time apparently sought to fuel perceptions of the North Korean threat in a bid to suppress people's demand for democratization by detaining South Koreans who had lived in Japan, which hosts supporters of both Koreas, and accusing them of being spies.

    Son, a native of Jeju Island in southern part of today's South Korea, moved to Japan during World War II and lived in Osaka while being involved in movements advocating rights of Korean residents and the activities of the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, known as Chongryon.

    But after having a problem with the executives of Chongryon, Son acquired South Korean nationality and worked as a trader.

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