China releases Kim and 3 activists
After being held in China for 114 days, four South Korean human rights advocates, including 49-year-old Kim Young-hwan, arrived in Seoul yesterday via Incheon International Airport upon being released by the Chinese authorities.
“The Chinese government released the four - Kim Young-hwan, Yoo Jae-gil, Kang Shin-sam, and Lee Sang-yong - to our government today at 5:15 p.m. [KST] in Shenyang,” said an official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade earlier yesterday. “They left Shenyang at 6:11 p.m. on Korean Air’s KE834 flight and will arrive in Seoul at around 7:20 p.m.”
The official said that Beijing had notified Seoul about the release one day before the prisoners’ planned arrival in Seoul.
“They [China] didn’t explain exactly under what conditions they decided to release [the activists] but previously they did say that they’re seriously considering [the release] based on the Sino-Korean relationship,” the official said.
The four activists were arrested by Chinese authorities on March 29 in Liaoning Province, northeastern China, on charges of endangering the country’s national security. The four are known to have helped North Korean defectors in China.
Kim, a researcher for the Seoul-based civic group Network for North Korean Democracy and Human Rights, was a leading propagator of North Korea’s juche (self-reliance) philosophy in the South in the 1980s and 1990s but later renounced his pro-North Korean views and became an activist for human rights in the communist regime.
Little has been disclosed about the activists’ arrests in March. But South Korean officials who had met them in prison indicated that the group was apparently linked to North Koreans trying to defect to South Korea.
South Korean consuls met Kim twice and the other three once, according to the Foreign Ministry. At the time, the consuls said “the four detainees looked in good health.”
“We’re relieved that the four are returning home,” the ministry official said. “We hope that such an incident doesn’t reoccur.”
Speculation rose last week that the fate of the four South Korean activists was high on the agenda for Chinese Public Security Minister Meng Jianzhu, the first Chinese public security minister to visit Seoul since the two countries established diplomatic relations in 1992, when he met with South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan and discussed the matter.
Foreign Minister Kim raised the issue of the four activists and requested the matter be solved as soon as possible.
Meng is known to have responded that his country “was seriously reviewing the request considering the relationship between Korea and China.”
By Lee Eun-joo [firstname.lastname@example.org]