Aid Workers Being Tried
China Appears to Hope No One Noticing
Aid workers, journalist face possible severe sentences for aiding boat people
On January 18 this year, a journalist and two aid
workers were arrested in Yantai, China along with a large
group of North Korean refugee boat people they were
attempting to help. The three are Seok Jae-hyun (Korean
journalist), Choi Yong-hun (Korean humanitarian aid worker)
and Park Myong-ho (Korean-Chinese humanitarian aid worker).
As part of our efforts to win their release, Life Funds for
North Korean Refugees (LFNKR) invited the wives of Mr. Seok
and Mr. Choi from their homes in Seoul to a press conference
in Tokyo on February 13.
LFNKR has steadily urged the international community to call
for the release of these three. This call was repeated at
the International Conference on North Korean Human Rights
held in Prague at the beginning of March and the Washington
DC Rally on March 22. The Chinese authorities, however,
still refuse to release them.
The mental and physical anguish of these detainees and their
families is a source of great concern. When the three
detainees were tried in open court in Yantai, Shandong
Province on April 22, we expected them to be released. The
trial, however, was only a public hearing, which concluded
with an announcement that a verdict would be handed down
after the middle of May.
No journalists attended the public hearing, though it was
held in open court. LFNKR members expressed both surprise
and disappointment that no Korean journalists or NGO-related
people showed up at the hearing.
Have the Korean journalist, Jae-hyun, and the Korean
humanitarian aid worker, Choi Yong-hun, been so easily
There has been criticism that the defection plan for the
boat people in Yantai was reckless. On the other hand, this
event attracted the attention of mass media at home and
abroad, providing an opening to widely publicize the plight
of North Korean refugees. Japan Amnesty for the first time
issued a call for an Urgent Action to release the detained
North Korean refugees and aid workers.
It is imperative to demonstrate clearly that the mass media
of the world, and all NGOs as well as other parties
interested in the human rights of North Korean refugees are
continuing to watch this matter. Failing this, the Chinese
authorities could feel free to gloss over this matter in
silence, never releasing the defendants who were working for
human rights. We must not allow these humanitarian aid
workers to be buried in the darkness. It would be the same
as forsaking the North Korean refugees themselves.
We hope that all media in China and all NGOs with an
interest in human rights will make a showing at the second
session of the trial.
Life Funds for North Korean Refugees