Detention of activists
Questions linger on why China arrested them
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has confirmed that four South Korean human rights activists, including Kim Young-hwan, a former key ideologue of North Korea’s ``juche’’ (self-reliance) philosophy, have been detained in China since late March.
A South Korean diplomat in the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang met with Kim on April 26 but the whereabouts of the three other activists are not known. The Network for North Korean Democracy and Human Rights, a Seoul-based rights group, said Kim is believed to be detained in the Chinese border city of Dandong across the Yalu River from North Korea. The four activists were arrested by Chinese police in Dalian on March 29.
Kim’s detention has drawn keen attention as he was allegedly arrested on charges of endangering China’s national security, a more serious crime. The charges against the three other activists were not immediately known as South Korean consular officials have been denied access to them.
Kim met with the North’s founder Kim Il-sung in 1991 after sneaking into the country via a North Korean submersible. He later renounced his pro-North Korean ideology.
We have many questions about China’s detention of the four activists. First of all, China’s argument that the three activists gave up meeting with South Korean consular officials makes little sense, given those in need usually seek help from outside.
Chinese authorities reportedly relayed to South Korea documents written by them pledging to renounce their rights to meet consular officials but experts here raise the possibility that the documents could have been forcibly written.
We also have suspicions about the alleged charges raised against Kim, who has been active in promoting human rights and democracy in the oppressive North. We don’t know exactly what kind of activities Kim and the three other activists performed in China but there are suspicions that North Korea may be behind their detention. That is, the Stalinist state, displeased with their activities to help North Korean defectors and the democratization movement, may have asked China to arrest them.
We don’t rule out the possibility that the latest detention case might escalate into a diplomatic row between South Korea and China if the latter applies unreasonable charges.
Our government, for its part, deserves criticism for being negligent in protecting its nationals abroad. South Korean diplomats have failed to find where and why the three activists are detained with nearly 50 days having passed since their arrest. Also, the foreign ministry has not been smooth in exchanging information with the National Intelligence Service.
It goes without saying that our nationals should be punished equally if they commit crimes in China, but given the country’s track record, we are concerned that they may have to endure sufferings there owing to groundless accusations.
We urge our diplomats to engage in active negotiations with their Chinese counterparts to settle the latest row quickly.