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China 23 January 2003

Photographer arrested in round-up of North Korean refugees

Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) called today on China to release at once a freelance South Korean photographer, Jae-Hoon Saek, who was arrested during a police crackdown on North Korean refugees in northern China between 11 and 18 January.

It noted, in a letter to Chinese foreign minister Tang Jiaxuan, that it was not the first time journalists, especially from South Korea, had been threatened for investigating the ill treatment by the authorities of North Koreans fleeing the regime of Kim Jong-il.

The photographer, a freelance who has worked for the New York Times and other papers, was arrested on 18 January with refugees in the port city of Yantai, in Shandong province, opposite the Korean peninsula. The police had promised to help them leave China by boat for South Korea and Japan but then rounded them up and took them to detention centres to send them back to North Korea. Ten others had been arrested in the northeastern province of Jilin between 11 and 15 January.

Chinese police usually try to prevent journalists, especially South Koreans, from reporting on the harsh treatment of thousands of North Koreans fleeing their country’s poverty and repression. China has an agreement with North Korea to return home all those who try to flee.

Last August, police searched the home of the Beijing correspondent of the South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo and took away files and other material about North Korean refugees in China.

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