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S. Korean pastor gets reduced sentence for illegal trip to N. Korea

All Headlines 16:59 June 30, 2011

SEOUL, June 30 (Yonhap) -- An appellate court on Thursday sentenced a South Korean pastor charged with unauthorized travel to North Korea to three years in jail, reducing a lower court's ruling in consideration of his benign intentions.

Rev. Han Sang-ryol, a pro-unification activist, was sentenced in January to a five-year jail term on charges of visiting the communist state without prior authorization and praising the regime during his stay there of more than two months last year.

South Korea's National Security Law prohibits citizens from going to the North without government approval and from participating in any acts that sympathize with Pyongyang.

"One can't deny that Rev. Han's glorification of North Korea's military-first policy and its possession of nuclear weapons worked to the North's advantage and posed major threats to South Korea's existence, safety and democratic order," the Seoul High Court said.

The court added that Han's visit was reported in North Korean media and used as a propaganda tool for the communist regime.

"However, Rev. Han contributed to easing tensions between the two Koreas through his pro-unification movement and his secret visit was based on his religious convictions," the court said, explaining its reasons for reducing the sentence. Both the prosecution and Han's lawyers had appealed, citing an unfair sentence.

Han entered Pyongyang by air on June 12 last year and returned on Aug. 20 by walking across the border village of Panmunjom. He made the trip when relations between the two Koreas were at their lowest ebb in years after the South condemned the North over the deadly sinking of its warship Cheonan in March.

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