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SOUTH KOREA: Amnesty welcome but political prisoners remain

'This latest amnesty should not obscure the plight of many political prisoners who remain behind bars nor the fact that the repressive legislation used to imprison them has yet to be substantially reformed,' the organisation said.

The National Security Law (NSL) is used to imprison peaceful government critics and should be either substantially revised in line with international standards or abolished.

'Radical reform or abolition of the NSL would prevent further violations and help build confidence in President Kim Dae-jung's renewed commitment to justice and reform,' Amnesty International added.

The South Korean government has consistantly argued the need for the NSL to counter the military threat from North Korea. However, in the new spirit of reconciliation the government no longer has an excuse for such repressive legislation.

Among the 24 political prisoners and prisoners of conscience released was 38-year-old labour activist, Pang Sok-su, who was serving a three-year prison sentence for forming and joining a group called the Youngnam Committee whose aim was alleged to 'benefit' North Korea. Amnesty International adopted Pang Sok-su and eight other members of the Youngnam Committee as prisoners of conscience and has been campaigning for their release.

The organisation will continue its campaign to release remaining Youngnam Committee prisoners as well as others held under the NSL for their non-violent political and social activities.

Amnesty International also welcomed reports of the commutation of two death sentences but urged the government to take concrete steps towards the abolition of the death penalty in law.

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