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Do You Know about Minister Choi Bong-il?

Posted August. 01, 2003 21:40,   


Numerous requests are being made to the Korean government to actively work for the release of minister Choi Bong-il who has been in jail for one year and three months.

Minister Choi, famous for giving much help to North Korean defectors in China, was arrested by the Chinese authority. People working for protecting North Korean defectors` human rights in several organizations visited Cheong Wa Dae Friday with the minister`s wife Oh Kab-sun and submitted a document calling for the government`s more active role in releasing the prime minister.

“I have waited for a good news after submitting a document for my husband`s acquittal before president Roh Moo-hyun`s visit to China. But my expectations are turning into a disappointment. I, once again, ask for the president`s efforts so that my husband can safely return home as soon as possible,” said the minister`s wife.

Minister Choi was arrested in his house in Yenji in Apil 2002 by the Chinese police for helping North Korean refugees. He helped 25 North Korean refugees to enter the Spanish embassy in China on March 14 last year. Since he was arrested, he had just one trial and was detained in prison without being sentenced at all. Even though minister Choi suffers from high blood pressure and diabetes, his trial continues to be delayed due to China`s ambiguous rules on the timing for a trial.

Currently, five Koreans including minister Choi are in jail in China on charges of helping North Korean refugees. Their work is thought to be on the humanitarian ground. But the release of these Korean prisoners is not likely to be easy due to the Chinese Government`s sensitive response to the illegal support of North Korean refugees` travel in and out of the nation. Moreover, Chinese police maintained a strong position on this issue, saying that it would deal with the case according to the Chinese law.

According to an official with the Ministry of Foreign affairs and trade, minister Choi is likely to be sentenced in August. But he can face seven years in prison, the maximum sentence for aiding illegal travel in and out of the nation. Better treatment for the minister`s case should be asked as he was helping those refugees on humanitarian grounds. The Korean Government, however, cannot ask for his release to the Chinese authority without considering setting a diplomatic precedent as the minister violated the law in China. The official also said that the Chinese government was also angry with those who were expelled from China for helping North Korean refugees as they openly criticized the Chinese Government.

Minister Choi, went to China in 1996 as a member of the Korea Evangelical Holiness Church and worked as a missionary in Jirin. Learning of the hardship suffered by North Korean refugees while working as a missionary, the minister continued to help North Korean refugees by forming a network to support those refugees.

“My husband is still more worried about North Korean refugees than himself even though he is sick. One year and three months is too long a period for a family desperately wanting to see a father,” said the minister`s wife, who has been to China three times. The minister`s daughter Yu-ri and son Seung-won currently serving his time in the army sent many letters to the minister that read, “We are always waiting for you to return and we are taking care of mother on behalf of you.”

But the Chinese law forbids letters to be exchanged in and out of a prison. The minister can just listen about the letters from his daughter and son through his wife.

Sun-Woo Kim sublime@donga.com