President Kim Dae-jung, himself once jailed for his beliefs, freed dozens of political prisoners Friday as part of a sweeping amnesty. Human rights groups said the clemency left key political prisoners still behind bars."We are very disappointed," said Minkhyup, the nation's largest civil rights group, noting that the vast majority of the 5.5 million South Koreans freed by the amnesty were traffic offenders and petty criminals - while the man believed to be the world's longest-held political prisoner remains imprisoned.
"Deplorable," said Oh Wan-ho, secretary general of the South Korean chapter of Amnesty International.
"The government released only part of the long-term prisoners of conscience because they feared a backlash from the country's conservative groups," Oh said.
Minkahyup had urged the president to release about 500 inmates it describes as prisoners of conscience, including 23 long-term political prisoners.
But only 74 political prisoners were released, including six the Justice Ministry said were being freed because they are 70 or older. All six had been serving life terms and human rights groups said all had been subjected to torture, some for decades.
"Today's amnesty makes us wonder whether the government really has any will for reforms," Minkahyup said in a statement. "Kim Dae-jung's government should immediately release all prisoners of conscience."
While most of those affected by the amnesty simply had their records wiped clean of traffic and other minor offenses, 2,304 prison inmates being held for more serious crimes also were freed.
Among those kept was Woo Yong-gak, thought to be the world's longest-serving political prisoner. A North Korean, he has been held in solitary confinement for 40 years for espionage, despite being partially crippled by a stroke.
Minkahyup says he also has lost all his teeth to torture, bad food and inadequate medical treatment.
Woo was one of 41 long-term political prisoners that Amnesty International had asked the government to release.