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LFNKR member, Noguchi, held for helping

China Jails Another Japanese Aid Worker

China appears to be hardening its stance toward humanitarian aid workers. One week after Noguchi was arrested, several South Korean aid workers were given unprecedentedly long prison sentences of up to nine years.

For Press Conference Jan. 13, 2004

Mr. Takayuki Noguchi (32), a member of the Japanese NGO Life Funds for North Korean Refugees (LFNKR), disappeared on December 10, 2003 while in China. The LFNKR home office has not heard from Noguchi since Dec. 10, following a routine check-in phone call on that date from Guilin, Guangxi in China at 11:45 AM (Japan time).

Noguchi, who is in charge of International Relations for LFNKR, was accompanied by two North Korean refugees who had escaped from North Korea. The two refugees are a woman in her 40s, and a man B in his 50s. The woman was born in Tokai Region, Japan and taken to North Korea by her mother, who believed that "North Korea was a paradise on earth", a story widely fostered by the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan in the 1960s. The man, who was born in West Japan, moved to North Korea in the early 1960s.

The afternoon of Dec. 11, LFNKR requested the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs to inquire into the safety of Noguchi and the two North Koreans.

According to a verbal message that LFNKR received from Northeast Asia Division, Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the afternoon of Dec. 16, Takayuki Noguchi was taken into custody on the 13th and charged with illegally transporting people to cross the border (Article 321) and an attempted crime under the same (Article 61). He is being held in Nanning prison in Guangxi.

On Dec. 18, when a consul from the Japanese Consulate in Guangzhou, China visited Noguchi at Nanning prison, Noguchi has repeatedly pleaded with the consul to urge LFNKR and UNHCR to immediately try and secure protection of the two North Koreans who were with him when arrested. LFNKR has been seeking every possible way to prevent the repatriation, as requested by Noguchi. Examples of organizations and people with whom LFNKR has worked include UNHCR, the South Korean government, several parliamentary members of Japan and South Korea in addition to the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. However, after 30 days of quiet, behind-the- scenes diplomacy failed to win their release, it was decided to make a public announcement.

On January 12, confirmation was received that the two North Korean defectors are still in China and have not yet been repatriated. A delay such as this is highly unusual. LFNKR hopes that it will lead to their being deported to a safe third country that they chose.

LFNKR urges the Chinese government to conform to international laws on refugees, with recognition of universal human rights and humanitarian concerns.

For the past several years, LFNKR has supplied food, clothing, medicines, and other assistance to North Korean refugees in North Korea and China through its own local network.

In October 2002, Kato, the head of LFNKR, was arrested while in China to supply food and winter clothing to North Korean refugees.



Born July 13, 1971 in Saitama, Japan

A graduate of Arkansas State University, he lived in the US for seven years.

In 1999, Noguchi went to work for a trading company in Japan, and in 2002, he began volunteer activities for our Tokyo-based NGO, Life Funds for North Korean Refugees. This was immediately before the head of our group, Hiroshi Kato, was arrested and detained in China for seven days.

Noguchi is motivated to help save suffering people and is deeply aware of the need for an international framework to deal with the issue of refugee certification. Thus, he has used his outstanding English ability to good advantage, contributing to the promotion of the international relationship of this NGO with other organizations both in Japan and abroad.

He has consistently focused his efforts on activities to win official certification of North Korean refugees, which would be a major step forward in the North Korean issue.

Thus, one of his priority tasks during the past year has been to organize an international conference to be attended by Mr. Ruud Lubbers (UN High Commissioner of Refugees). Others expected to attend the conference are members of the International Parliamentarians' Coalition for the North Korean Refugees and Human Rights (IPCNKR), other NGOs dedicated to the same issues, and relevant international organizations.

When Commissioner Lubbers visited Japan in June 2003, Noguchi met with him and they discussed the conference, then he prepared an outline for the conference project and submitted it to the Commissioner, who expressed his interest in attending.

Encouraged by Commissioner Lubbers' positive feedback, Noguchi was preparing a series of follow-up documents to be submitted to UNHCR. Meanwhile, he also volunteered to accept a dangerous mission into China to rescue North Korean refugees. In December 2003, he was arrested and detained by the Chinese authorities.

Kato was detained and interrogated for seven days before being deported from China and banned from that country for 5 years.

These experiences highlight once again how dangerous it can be to go into China to assist North Korean refugees. LFNKR has therefore been strongly urging the UNHCR and related international organizations to immediately begin rescue activities for North Korean refugees. Of special urgency is the need to grant them official refugee status. At the same time, LFNKR is receiving a growing number of increasingly urgent requests for help from North Korean refugees hiding in China, particularly because China has intensified its crackdown on such refugees. This organization has found it impossible to ignore the cries for help from people whose lives are in danger.

According to some reports, more than 100,000 North Korean refugees may currently be hiding in China. They are obviously entitled to be classed as refugees under relevant international laws. Since LFNKR was founded in 1998, the organization has consistently urged the Chinese government to stop repatriating North Korean refugees because they face severe legal consequences, up to and including the death penalty, under Article 47 of the North Korean Criminal Code.

Takayuki Noguchi and other humanitarian aid workers who have recently received actual prison sentences must be released immediately. They include, for example, Rev. Choi Bong-il, who was sentenced to 9 years of imprisonment, Kim Hee-tae, 7 years, Choi Yong-hun, 5 years, and South Korean journalist Seok Jae-hyun, 2 years.

The North Korean refugee issue no longer endangers only North Korean lives; it is also seriously jeopardizing the lives of humanitarian aid workers who attempt to bring help the refugees.

A growing number of aid workers, whose only "crime" is helping people in need, are being imprisoned, tortured and severely mistreated at the hands of a nation that continues to disregard the norms of civilized law and behavior. Meanwhile, international organizations such as UNHCR, which are legally charged with monitoring such illegal behavior, are still being blocked by the Chinese government.

It is obvious that rescue activities have now grown beyond the limited resources of small NGOs such as LFNKR. This organization repeats in the strongest possible terms its request that UNHCR take the leadership internationally to work together with all related countries, including China, Russia, the USA, Europe, South Korea, and Japan, to resolve the issue of North Korean refugees.

The North Korean refugee issue is no longer merely a regional matter; it is an international humanitarian and human rights issue. This is causing the Chinese government to be faced with growing diplomatic problems and security issues in Northeast Asia. China must begin working on this issue within an international framework.

Life Funds for North Korean Refugees
A-101, 2-2-8 Nishikata, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 113-0024
Tel/Fax: 03-3815-8127