In the News – China likely to release S. Korean activist soon: source
SEOUL, July 10 (Yonhap) — A South Korean activist held in China for allegedly helping North Korean defectors there is likely to be released soon following months of pressure from Seoul and civic groups, a diplomatic source said Tuesday.
The release of Kim Young-hwan, a senior researcher for the Seoul-based civic group Network for North Korean Democracy and Human Rights, is likely to come before or after the visit of Chinese Public Security Minister Meng Jianzhu to Seoul later this week, the source said on condition of anonymity.
Kim, 49, was one of four South Korean activists arrested in the northeastern Chinese city of Dalian on March 29. The group is accused of endangering China’s national security, a serious charge that carries heavy punishment, but no further details have been made available, according to officials in Seoul.
It is believed the detentions are related to the activists’ efforts to help North Korea defectors hiding in China and improve the North’s human rights conditions and other activities Pyongyang considers an affront to its totalitarian regime.
“It is common sense to expect (China) to resolve the case of Kim Young-hwan before Minister Meng’s visit to Seoul,” the source said. “If Kim is indicted and his activities become known, this could create a stir, so China is likely to release him first and then deport him.”
Meng is scheduled to arrive in Seoul Thursday for a three-day visit, during which he will meet with South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan among other officials, according to Seoul’s foreign ministry.
China is a key ally of North Korea and typically repatriates North Korean defectors caught within its borders. Activists and lawmakers in South Korea and other countries have recently stepped up pressure on Beijing to stop the forced repatriation, and release the South Korean detainees.
A senior ministry official said the government has not been informed of an exact timing for their release, although it continues to be in talks with Beijing.
“There are often ‘gifts’ during a high-level visit from China, and I understand that the recent atmosphere in China (regarding the issue) isn’t bad,” said a government official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Kim, the activist, is a former South Korean proponent of North Korea’s guiding “juche” philosophy of self-reliance. He met with the North’s founding leader Kim Il-sung in 1991 after sneaking into the North via a North Korean submersible.
However, he later renounced his pro-North Korean ideology and became active in projects to raise awareness about the dismal human rights record in North Korea.