By Michael Ireland
Chief Correspondent, ASSIST News Service
YUNNAN PROVINCE, PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF CHINA (ANS) -- Christian Solidarity Worldwide is raising urgent concern for a group of North Koreans who are in the process of being sent back to North Korea, where they are in danger of execution.
According to CSW, the six defectors were arrested in Yunnan Province in China, near the Laos/Burma border between 24th - 26th May. They were attempting to leave China, without a guide, but were arrested and are now being taken by the Chinese authorities to North China for repatriation to North Korea.
"The group was sent to Kunmin on the morning of 29th May and have been transported to Changchun today. The situation is particularly urgent as the Chinese are moving exceptionally fast in this case," said a spokesman for CSW.
"Amongst the group is Lee Song-yong, a 2 1/2 year old boy, born 15th November 1999 in 292 Chinese Army Hospital in Beijing. Lee's mother, Park Sun-hi, aged 31, was 3 months pregnant when she fled to China for freedom in May 1999," the spokesman said.
Afraid of arrest and repatriation in China she managed to reach South Korea on 22nd November 2002. She is now a South Korean citizen, CSW said. "However she could not take her 12-month-old baby at the time and has been desperate to bring him to live with her. She managed to find a group of North Koreans preparing to leave China and asked them to take her son with them. Unfortunately this is the group that has been arrested," CSW said.
CSW also reports that a second member of the group is Mr. Lee Hong-gang, aged 48. He was an underground Christian in North Korea. His father and one of his two brothers were executed for their Christian faith in North Korea. He fled North Korea in April 2000 when there were indications that his arrest and execution were imminent.
Accounts from North Korean defectors who have been recaptured and interrogated by the North Korean authorities systematically report that being a Christian or even having had contact with a Christian is one of the most serious crimes that a North Korean can commit. Eyewitness evidence gathered by CSW and other organizations attests that North Koreans who have tried to escape and who are Christians face execution. It is believed by those close to the situation that there is no doubt that he would be executed if he is repatriated to North Korea, CSW reported.
A third member of the group is 30 year old Kim Mi-hwa, the spokesman said.
The CSW spokesman told ASSIST News Service (ANS):"The other serious crime that North Korean interrogators look for is links with South Korea, as this is deemed the ultimate act of treason. The facts that the group were heading for South Korea, and Lee Song-yong's mother has already defected to South Korea, are grave grounds for concern for the welfare of the group.
"This is a very serious case. It is understood that China and North Korea have an agreement that China will repatriate North Koreans to North Korea. We know from first hand evidence that this gives rise to the most horrific human rights abuses, including execution. Recent cases that have caught international attention have resulted in a more humanitarian response, with North Koreans seeking refuge in embassies being allowed to leave China for safety," the spokesman added.
CSW said that China's international reputation is at risk in sending these people back to certain death. "Besides the obvious outcry which such action should precipitate, her position as host of the Olympic Games in 2008 has to be called into question while such barbaric acts are carried out."
CSW is urgently appealing for expressions of concern from around the world to be communicated to the Chinese authorities to halt the repatriation. "We would be very grateful if you could raise your concern as a matter of urgency and urge others to do the same. CSW is calling on political representatives, the UNHCR, the press, the International Olympic Committee and others with influence to urgently voice concern over this situation. Please use any contacts you have with these channels to encourage them to take this up as a matter of urgency," the spokesman added.
Those interested in pursuing this case may write to the following Embassies:
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Minister of Foreign Affairs
2 Chaoyangmenneidajie Dongsi,
People's Republic of China
Tel: 00 86 10 6596 1109/14
Fax: 00 86 10 6596 2660
Chinese Embassy to the United Kingdom
His Excellency Mr Ma Zhengang
Chinese Embassy to the United Kingdom
49-51 Portland Place
London W1N 4JL
Tel: 020 7299 4049
Fax: 020 7636 2981 / 7636 5578
Chinese Mission to the United Nations in Geneva
His Excellency Mr Qiao Zonghuai
Tel: 00 41 22 879 56 00 / 78 / 50 / 41
Fax: 00 41 22 793 70 14
Permanent Mission of the People's Republic of China to the UN in New York
His Excellency Mr Wang Yingfan
Tel: + 1 212 655 6100 (switch) / 655 6123 (Ambassador)
Fax: + 1 212 634 7626
Embassy of the People's Republic of China (USA)
Tel + 1 202 328 2500
Fax: + 1 202 588 0032
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
94 rue de Montbrillant
Tel: 00 41 22 739 8111
Fax: 00 41 22 739 7377