Kin of activists appeal to China for their release

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Kin of activists appeal to China for their release

In a move to seek the release of four South Korean rights advocates who have been held for months in China, their families yesterday sent a letter of appeal addressed to Chinese President Hu Jintao through the Chinese Embassy in Seoul.

Kim Young-hwan and his three fellow activists calling for rights improvements in North Korea were arrested on March 29 in Liaoning Province, northeastern China, on charges of threatening the country’s national security.

Their detention continued for 84 days without access to an attorney. Their families and Choi Hong-jae, spokesman of the civic group pursuing their release, visited the Chinese Embassy in Seoul and submitted the letter of appeal.

As no one from the Chinese Embassy received them, the letter was put inside the embassy's mailbox. "It's a common way to deliver an appeal letter to China," Choi said.

In the letter, the families expressed frustration that their loved ones were detained for months without family visitation.

"Since the investigation wrapped up in April, please send them back to their families," the letter said.

Little is known about the case, as it was handled by the Ministry of State Security, the highest intelligence authority in China, not the Public Security Bureau that acts as police.

On April 1, China informed South Korea that the detainees were accused of threatening the country's national security.

Since then, diplomats from the Consulate General of South Korea in Shenyang had two interviews with the detainees, but no access to a lawyer was given. The detainees were also tight-lipped about their arrests, adding to the mystery.

Kim was once a leading propagator of North Korea’s juche (self-reliance) ideology in the South in the 1980s and 1990s, but he had a change of heart and became an activist against the communist regime.

"Seoul and Beijing reached a consensus to find a political resolution to the matter,"a senior official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade told the JoongAng Ilbo. "But right now, we cannot say exactly when and how they will be released."

A source at the South Korean Embassy in Beijing also said the two countries have continued talks and the situation doesn't appear to be grave.

"China will handle the issue based on its own laws," he said. "Only China knows when they will be released."

Another Foreign Ministry official said China appeared to have made a decision to separate the detainees into two cases."Kim will be identified as the primary suspect, while the other three will be treated as accomplices," he said.

By Kim Su-jeong, Ser Myo-ja[myoja@joongang.co.kr ]

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