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CHR Urges President Kim to Release Ahn Jae-ku

In a letter to President Kim Dae Jung of the Republic of Korea (South Korea), the Committee on Human Rights (CHR) of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine urged amnesty for Korean mathematician and longtime political prisoner Ahn Jae-ku. The letter was sent to President Kim Dae Jung in anticipation of an annual day of pardon scheduled for August 15, 1999.

Professor Ahn was a professor in the mathematics department at Kyongbuk University for 15 years and is well-respected in his field. In 1976, Professor Ahn, who was openly critical of the government of then President Park Chung-hee, was dismissed from his job. He was subsequently imprisoned from 1979 to 1988 for allegedly joining an anti-state organization.

In 1994, Professor Ahn was rearrested for allegedly conducting espionage for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) through an organization which he had established called the National Front for the Salvation of the Fatherland (NFSF). To the CHR’s knowledge, no evidence exists to support the claim of espionage. It is also the CHR's understanding that the NFSF which Professor Ahn created was an informal discussion group that nonviolently advocated democracy and Korean reunification. Professor Ahn was sentenced to life imprisonment. In August 1998, his sentence was reduced in a presidential amnesty to 20 years. Two months later, he was allowed out of prison for 12 hours to attend his son’s wedding. Professor Ahn, who is 65 years old, continues to be held in solitary confinement in Taegu Prison.

The text of the CHR’s letter appears below.

July 21, 1999

His Excellency Kim Dae Jung
President of the Republic of Korea
The Blue House
1 Sejong-no, Chongno-gu
Seoul, Republic of Korea

Excellency:

I am writing once again to reiterate our concern and that of the international scientific community about the plight of our 65-year-old scientific colleague, imprisoned Korean mathematician Ahn Jae-ku, and to respectfully request that you consider including him in the amnesty that we understand is planned for August 15.

As mentioned in letters sent earlier this year, we were most gratified that Professor Ahn’s life sentence was reduced to 20 years last August as part of your presidential amnesty and that he was allowed to leave prison for some 12 hours last October to attend his son’s wedding. We are seriously concerned, however, that Professor Ahn remains in prison, in solitary confinement, for what appears to be solely the peaceful exercise of his rights to freedom of expression and association.

In 1976, Professor Ahn, who had openly criticized the then military government of President Park Chung-hee, was fired from his tenured position at Kyoungbuk University, reportedly because he refused to submit reports to the government on his students’ opposition activities. Three years later, Professor Ahn was arrested and incarcerated for nine years for allegedly joining an anti-state organization.

Professor Ahn was rearrested in 1994 for allegedly conducting espionage for North Korea through an organization which he had established called the National Front for the Salvation of the Fatherland. To the knowledge of our committee, no evidence exists to support the claim of espionage. Reliable reports indicate that the group created by Professor Ahn was simply an informal discussion group that advocated democracy and Korean reunification.

It is our understanding that Professor Ahn has unequivocally denounced the use of violence and advocates only peaceful means to achieve his goal of Korean unification. Given your demonstrated concern for prisoners of conscience and your “Sunshine Policy,” we respectfully request that you give earnest consideration to including Professor Ahn in your upcoming August 15 amnesty, on humanitarian grounds.

Thank you for your attention to this matter of importance to our committee and to the international scientific community.

Sincerely,
Torsten Wiesel, M.D., FRS
Chair, Committee on Human Rights
1981 Nobel laureate in Physiology or Medicine

Attachment: List of CHR members