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Top court says Iranian refugee who faked visa document won't be punished

March 27, 2023 - 14:27 By Lee Jaeeun
The Supreme Court of Korea (The Supreme Court of Korea)

South Korea's Supreme Court has ruled that an Iranian national charged with obtaining a visa based on fake documentation should not be punished, citing an international refugee convention, officials said Monday.

The Iranian applied for refugee status in March 2016 after entering Korea on a short-term visa that he obtained by submitting an invitation letter from a Korean company.

But it was discovered that the invitation letter was a fake he had bought from a broker for $4,700.

The Ministry of Justice initially refused his refugee application, but he appealed against the ministry's decision.

In 2020, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of his refugee status, reasoning that "there is a risk of persecution due to his religion, Christianity, if he goes back to Iran."

Separately from the decision on refugee status, the prosecution handed the Iranian over to trial in 2018 for obstruction of official duties, and violating the Immigration Control Act.

The first trial sentenced the Iranian to a year in prison with two years of probation in September 2018. But he was found not guilty on appeal in 2021, before the case was taken to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court ruled that the man was entitled to exemption from criminal penalties under Article 31 of the 1951 Refugee Convention, which South Korea has joined and ratified.

Article 31 states that refugees should not be punished for entering or residing in a country illegally.