Reporters Without Borders and the support committee for Seok Jae-hyun (Resolution217) have called for the photographer’s release on the eve of talks on North Korea’s nuclear programme opening in Beijing on 25 February.
Both groups called on South Korean Foreign Minister, Pan Ki-mun, and U. S. Secretary of State, Colin Powell, to raise the South Korean photographer’s case with the Chinese authorities during the talks.
"While the world is closely watching developments in North Korea we wish to remind you that a photographer is in jail in China for having attempted to expose the plight of North Korean refugees in the country", the two organisations wrote to the ministers.
Reporters Without Borders and Resolution217 said that Seok Jae-hyun should now be eligible for parole as allowed under the Chinese legal system since he has served half his sentence.
Seok was arrested on 18 January 2003 while he was covering an attempt to help North Korean refugees reach South Korea and Japan by boat. Beijing has signed an agreement with Pyongyang that commits China to returning North Korean refugees to their country.
The photographer was sentenced to two years in prison for "people trafficking" on 22 May 2003 by a court in Yantai, Shandong province, which is opposite the Korean peninsula.
After his trial, the photographer was transferred to a prison in Weifang. His sentence was upheld on appeal on 19 December 2003. A freelance photojournalist, who has worked for the U. S. daily The New York Times and the South Korean GEO Magazine, Seok is held in a shared cell with about 20 Chinese common-law prisoners.
In September 2003, Seok’s wife Kang Hye-won met with her husband face to face for the first time since his arrest. She told the press that he was physically very weakened. Chinese authorities have only allowed Kang to visit him four times.
"He has lost at least 15 kilos and his face is covered with sores," she said, adding, "He was infected by sharing a razor with other prisoners (...) His fingers are swollen by frostbite and he will need a lot of medical treatment after his release."
More than 10,000 people have already signed the petition for his release on either www.resolution217.org or www.rsf.org.
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