Welwyn Hatfield amnesty group welcomes former South Korea prisoner

PUBLISHED: 17:15 13 November 2017 | UPDATED: 17:15 13 November 2017

Welwyn Hatfield and East Herts Local Amnesty Group welcomed Hwan dae Kwon.
Picture:  Welwyn Hatfield and East Herts Local Amnesty Group

Welwyn Hatfield and East Herts Local Amnesty Group welcomed Hwan dae Kwon. Picture: Welwyn Hatfield and East Herts Local Amnesty Group

Archant

A former prisoner in South Korea was the special guest at an Amnesty Action evening.

Hwan dae Kwon and Roisin Toole.
Picture:  Welwyn Hatfield and East Herts Local Amnesty Group Hwan dae Kwon and Roisin Toole. Picture: Welwyn Hatfield and East Herts Local Amnesty Group

Members of Welwyn Hatfield and East Herts Amnesty group welcomed Hwan dae Kwon to their gathering on November 8.

Kwon, then a student activist, was imprisoned in South Korea from 1985 to 1998.

Tortured until he was forced to sign a confession that he was a North Korean spy, he was sentenced to life imprisonment, held in solitary confinement in a tiny cell and allowed only half an hour’s exercise a day.

From 1989 he was the ‘adopted prisoner’ of the Welwyn Hatfield and East Herts Amnesty group, who, along with groups in Holland, Norway and Germany, campaigned vigorously for his release.

Amnesty group spokeswoman Vicky Woodcraft said: “Equally importantly, group members wrote to Hwan dae Kwon himself and, perhaps surprisingly, he was able to write back.

“This resulted in a ten-year correspondence and lasting friendship between Hwan dae Kwon, known by his pet name of Bau, and Roisin Toole, the group’s then treasurer, who became Bau’s honorary mother.

“Her letters, he told the group, were a lifeline to him and when he was released in August 1998, he visited Welwyn Garden City and stayed with Roisin and her family.

“After seventeen years he was delighted to return to the area for a brief visit.

“Since his release he has published nine books on his experiences in prison and on living an alternative, simple lifestyle.

“His prison diary became a bestseller in Korea and he has moved from imprisonment in a dark and tiny cell to something of a celebrity in his country.”

“It is wonderful to hear such a success story,” said Brenda Weeden, chair of the local Amnesty group.

She added: “We are privileged to have played a part in giving Bau back his life but the struggle for thousands of other wrongly imprisoned people world-wide continues.”

•To find out more about the local Amnesty’s Action Evenings contact group secretary Sue Friend at susan.friend@sky-mail.net

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