SEOUL, May 16 (UPI) -- A progressive South Korean legal organization has been denied access to the 13 North Korean defectors who fled a state-run restaurant in China.
Lawyers for a Democratic Society had requested interviews with the North Korean waitresses and their manager, but after being rejected at the defector custody center is planning to take legal action, Yonhap reported.
During a press conference Monday, the lawyers said they were told by an intelligence official that access was not allowed because the "North Korean workers had entered South Korea out of their own free will."
"If that is correct, the government must grant them their right to counsel," the lawyers told reporters.
The attorneys were also told that there could be risks involved in contact between the defectors and themselves, local newspaper Kyunghyang Shinmun reported.
The group attempted to deliver a collection of essays from South Korean authors Shin Yeong-bok and Yun Dong-ju, in addition to stationery and pens.
But according to the lawyers, a National Intelligence Service staff member said, "external third party goods cannot be accepted, because it is likely to include 'hazardous substances.'"
The group was also told the defectors had said they do not want to meet the lawyers out of concern for their privacy.
In response, the lawyers said they not only plan to file a suit but also press charges for what they say is an infringement on their right to access the defectors.
On Monday, unification ministry spokesman Jeong Joon-hee said at a press briefing the defectors are in "good health" and dispelled rumors that one of the defectors had died while in custody.
The latter story is part of a North Korea propaganda campaign, Jeong said.