By KWANG-TAE KIM / AP WRITER
The Irrawaddy News
SEOUL — South Korea's Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a lower court ruling granting refugee status to eight asylum seekers from Burma.
A lower court ruling that the Burmese citizens "have a well-grounded fear of being persecuted" is justified, the Supreme Court said in a written ruling.
"I am very pleased with the ruling. Now, I can freely work for democracy and human rights in Myanmar [Burma]," Zaw Moe Aung, one of the eight plaintiffs, told The Associated Press after the ruling.
Burma's military junta routinely jails dissidents. Opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Suu Kyi has been detained for 13 of the past 19 years, and Friday is the one-year anniversary of a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations by tens of thousands.
The Burmese citizens entered South Korea in 1990s and helped form a Korean chapter of Suu Kyi's party in 1999. They have since led rallies condemning their country's military junta.
The eight filed applications in 2000 seeking refugee status, citing possible political persecution from Burma's military junta if they were forcibly sent back to their country.
But South Korea's Justice Ministry refused to grant them refugee status in 2005 and recommended their deportation, prompting the Burmese citizens to file the suit.
A lower court ruled in the asylum seekers' favor in 2006. The Justice Ministry appealed the ruling.
Hong Man-pyo, a ministry spokesman, said he had no comment on Thursday's ruling.
South Korea, which became a signatory of the UN treaty on protecting refugees in 1992, has so far granted refugee status to 76 out of more than 1,950 asylum seekers, according to a civic group that aided the plaintiffs.