SEOUL, June 21 (UPI) -- A South Korean hearing was inconclusive on whether 12 North Korean defectors should be allowed to speak with lawyers after the defectors failed to appear in court.
The attorneys of the Lawyers for a Democratic Society are questioning the legality of keeping the defectors in custody after they fled a state-run restaurant in China with their manager and made their way to South Korea.
The closed-door hearing on Tuesday ended when the former waitresses did not appear, South Korean news service CBS No Cut News reported Tuesday.
Seoul's National Intelligence Service is detaining them at a "care center" for North Korean defectors, a different institution from Hanawon, where new arrivals can be interrogated and trained to adjust to life in the South.
The care center is a regular stopover for defectors, who stay there for one or two months before being directed to Hanawon, according to No Cut News.
The spy agency has said the move is designed to shield the defectors' identities and to protect their families who are still in North Korea.
Pyongyang has accused Seoul of abducting the young women, although the group left China on valid passports.
The three-hour hearing was punctuated with repeated requests from LDS attorneys for the defectors' court appearance.
Their absence is an issue, the legal group said.
Chae Hui-jun, one of the attorneys, said that the hearing isn't complete without the defectors' presence. Otherwise the only statements on the case are coming from national intelligence, the group said.
Chae said he filed a motion that included a complaint that the court was evading its responsibilities.
According to the NIS, the defectors had said they wished not to appear in court for reasons of safety, local news service Money Today reported.