Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) launched an online petition for the release of South Korean freelance photographer Jae-Hyun Seok who was arrested by Chinese police as he covered an operation involving North Korean refugees. He was sentenced to two years in jail for "trafficking in human beings".
The international press freedom organisation plans to present the petition calling for the journalist’s release and dropping of all charges to the Chinese embassy in France during Chinese president Hu Jintao’s official visit to Paris on 27-28 January. Find the petition on www.rsf.org.
Seok was arrested on 18 January 2003 while covering an attempt to help North Korean refugees reach South Korea and Japan by boat. China signed an agreement with Pyongyang under which it undertook to repatriate any North Korean refugees.
The photographer was sentenced to two years in prison for "people trafficking" by the Yantai court in Shandong province (opposite the Korean peninsula) on 22 May 2003. The sentence was later confirmed on appeal.
Reporters Without Borders regrets that the South Korean government has not intervened more strongly on his behalf. "South Korea should use every diplomatic and political means to obtain the release of its citizen, who was only exercising his right to inform the public," said Robert Ménard, secretary general of the international press freedom organisation.
"It should be remembered that his arrest and sentence on false accusations was intended to punish an independent journalist and to discourage the international press from investigations about North Korean refugees in China," he added.
Seok, who works for The New York Times and the South Korean magazine Geo, is held in Yantai prison. His prison conditions are not good.
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