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“Mother, only his voice came home”

Posted June. 06, 2004 22:20,   


A Korean detained in an American prison was refused permission for a temporary visit to his homeland to conduct his mother’s funeral. Robert Kim (Kim Chae-gon), 64, remained in the U.S. while his wife, Chang Myong-hee, 61, flew alone to Korea to grieve over the coffin of her mother-in-law, Hwang Tae-nam, at Seoul Asan hospital. The deceased was 83 years of age.

Chang arrived in Korea with only a tape recording of Kim’s voice and is departing for the U.S. on June 9, the day after the funeral ceremony.

Chang worshipped at the National Cemetery at Dongjak-dong before going to the hospital. Lee Woong-jin, president of Kim’s Aid Association, said, “Robert Kim suggested over the phone that it would be proper to worship at the National Cemetery since it is the Memorial Day, so his wife visited the Memorial Park.”

On June 5, the Aid Association had delivered a petition to the US Embassy in Korea to urge temporary permission for Kim to return to his home country. In the petition addressed to U.S. President George W. the association stated, “It is a filial duty in Korea for the first son to conduct the parent’s funeral. If he does not, he is considered extremely remiss in his duty.” The association added, “We hope you grant Kim’s admission to Korea considering his exemplary life in prison.”

Upon hearing of his mother’s death on June 4, Kim had requested a temporary homeland visit from his prison supervisor, Berry Raymond, and the prison administration. He explained the need to be in charge of his mother’s ceremony, but was rejected with the comment, “It is our policy not to send convicts abroad.”

In a separate petition, the Aid Association stated, “We sincerely hope that you take the proper steps for Mr. Kim, considering Korean-American relations.” The Association noted further, “Koreans will feel betrayed by America if Mr. Kim must carry this burden alone for his entire life.” Association President Lee remarked, “Robert Kim will be able to come with permission of the judge, when his term expires on July 27.”

The Aid Association will hold an exhibition of Robert Kim’s family photos at the Members’ Office Building of the National Assembly, while obtaining signatures of the congressmen on a petition initiative entitled, “The Government stands behind Robert Kim.”

Jae-Dong Yu jarrett@donga.com