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Rights Group Calls on China to Release S. Korean Journalists - 2003-08-22

The Committee to Protect Journalists is demanding that China release two South Korean journalists arrested in Shanghai this month. The two were detained while covering an attempt by North Korean refugees to gain asylum.

Chinese officials confirm the arrest on August 7 of the two freelance photojournalists, Kim Seung Jin and Geum Myeong Seok, but have no comment on international protests over the arrests.

Police arrested the two as they videotaped several North Korean refugees, who were trying to enter a Japanese-run school in Shanghai in a bid for asylum.

Scores of North Koreans have forced their way into diplomatic compounds in China over the past two years. In most cases, they have eventually been allowed to leave for South Korea, via third countries.

Still, China, North Korea's closest ally, has consistently refused to grant refugee status to tens of thousands of other North Koreans who activists say have fled hunger and repression in their home country. The Chinese government instead refers to the North Koreans as economic migrants, and routinely deports them to North Korea.

"I think there's a lot of issues here for China," said Lin Neumann, the Asia consultant, based in Bangkok, for the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. "For one thing, they want to cover up, obviously, the presence of North Koreans in the country. They don't want the outside world to know that this kind of activity is taking place there. But I think it sends the wrong message for China to arrest these journalists. It makes it appear that China wants to be closed, wants to prevent people from knowing what's going on [with] certain sensitive issues. It really flies in the face of the reforms that China is undertaking."

The arrests come at a politically sensitive time, as China is preparing to host six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear arms program. The United States, North and South Korea, Japan and Russia are sending diplomats to Beijing for talks due to start Wednesday.

In a related development, Thailand's foreign minister on Friday announced that 10 North Korean asylum seekers at the Japanese Embassy in Bangkok would be sent to South Korea. The 10, including two children, made a dash into the Japanese diplomatic compound last month, and have been there ever since.