South Korean prosecutors have indicted a North Korean defector who wants to return home on charges of violating a national security law, her lawyer told Reuters.
Kim Ryen Hi, 51, drew international attention in 2015 when she pleaded for deportation, saying she had been tricked by a broker and never intended to leave her homeland. She even reported herself to police as a spy and tried to forge a passport, which brought a suspended prison sentence.
After South Korean authorities repeatedly rejected her demand, she launched an online campaign, writing open letters to her family and UN officials and sharing her interviews on Facebook and YouTube.
Kim also unsuccessfully sought to take asylum at the Vietnamese Embassy in 2016.
But last week, prosecutors indicted Kim on charges of breaching the National Security Act on several counts, including plotting to escape to North Korea, which the law stipulates as an "anti-government organisation that threatens the existence and security" of the nation or its free democratic order.
A copy of the indictment, which was not made public, was seen by Reuters.
Kim was also accused of possessing and distributing material that praised the North by posting its state media articles and letters from her family on social media.
"The charges made me speechless as I mostly shared what others wrote or talked about my story or hometown, and yet prosecutors have never even bothered to call me in for questioning through all those years," Kim told Reuters.
The prosecutors' office in the southeastern city of Daegu which led the indictment was unreachable for comment.
The National Security Act, enacted in 1948, has rarely been used in recent years. It was used to persecute thousands of political foes and dissenters under military dictatorships in South Korea in the 1960-80s.
President Moon Jae-in has called for revising the law and his administration has loosened its enforcement amid efforts to improve inter-Korean relations.
Kim's lawyer, Jang Kyung-wook, said the charges against her were not only groundless but also a violation of human rights.
"It would invite international ridicule if you charge someone who is only fighting to go back home with threatening national security for sharing her daughter's letters on Facebook," Jang said.