Korean-Australian citizen Chan Han Choi faces a sentencing hearing in March-April in Sydney after pleading guilty to two charges of attempting to circumvent controversial United Nations economic sanctions against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), better known as North Korea.
The plea bargaining deal accepted in court on February 10 involved the prosecution withdrawing the two most outrageous charges against Choi, relating to allegations that he assisted the DPRK in exporting materiel to boost the development of “weapons of mass destruction”.
Nevertheless, the remaining serious charges each involve a maximum penalty of 10 year’s jail.
Choi was arrested in December 2017 and had been held in prison until his release on bail in November last year.
Choi’s new lawyer Mark Davis told the ABC his client was relieved to be facing a “far more rational array of charges. Essentially, he’s rejecting the military implication. He’s rejecting anything being supplied by him to North Korea completely.”
Davis said Choi had previously been in business when it was legal to sell North Korean products. “He’s pleaded guilty to breaching the embargoes that were put in place around North Korea for various products,” he said.
The judge rejected the prosecution’s application for Choi’s re-detention, and expressed concern that he had effectively been “in a fortress” while in custody, because his prisoner classification made it difficult for interpreters to gain access due to a heightened vetting process.
Choi pleaded guilty to one count of contravening a United Nations sanction enforcement law and another of contravening a sanction law. These actions included attempting to broker a deal to export North Korean coal to Indonesia, and to export “conventional” arms from the DPRK.
In the end, all these attempted deals fell through.
This political trial occurs in the context of ongoing threats of war and devastating economic sanctions directed against North Korea by the United States and its allies. It imposes a form of collective punishment on the people of North Korea.
Under the Donald Trump administration, US attacks on the DPRK worsened. It is yet to be seen whether the Biden administration will make any moves to reduce tensions with North Korea.
Choi is a victim of this campaign, and should be supported as a question of basic human rights. The convictions of Choi should be overturned and all charges dropped. The economic and political sanctions against the North Korean people should be lifted, the US threats of war should cease, and US forces (along with their weapons of mass destruction) should be withdrawn from the Korean peninsula.