By BosNewsLife Asia Service with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
BEIJING/SEOUL (BosNewsLife)– Christian rights activists have urged China not to forcibly repatriate ten North Korean defectors, including a four-year-old child, who were detained by police in Shenyang city.
Their appeal came while U.S. President Donald Trump issued a direct and personal warning to North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un, saying continued nuclear provocation could result in the communist nation’s obliteration.
The seven women and three men fleeing North Korea were detained November 4 after police raided a house where they were sheltering in Shenyang in China’s Liaoning province, BosNewsLife learned.
Reuters news agency quoted a man who identified himself only as Lee as saying that his wife and son had met the rest of a group at a safe house in Shenyang, but lost contact with him last week.
Advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) said the group, “whose ages range from a child of three to adults in their 60s,” are currently detained at Shenyang police station and face “the threat of imminent repatriation.”
David Alton, a member of Britain’s House of Lords, the upper chamber of parliament, urged Britain’s government to formulate a response.
The defectors, their families in South Korea and the South Korean embassy have also appealed to the Chinese government to consider their case on humanitarian grounds, CSW said.
CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas told BosNewsLife that China’s government had been forcibly repatriating North Korean defectors within its borders, though returnees risk death or imprisonment in the country’s network of harsh prison camps. Other sources said China appeared to have intensified its crackdown on North Korean defectors in China, especially in the past two months.
Thomas said that “forcibly repatriating North Koreans to their country violates the international humanitarian principle” of forbidding a nation to return asylum seekers to a state where they would face danger and “risks sending people to their deaths.”
He added: “Even if not executed, the conditions of torture and abuse in North Korean detention centers and prison camps are so severe that imprisonment amounts to a death sentence.”
Among those jailed are at least tens of thousands of Christians, according to Christian aid workers, though other sources say that the figure may be higher. “The family that has ruled North Korea for three generations are worshipped as gods and any suggestion that there is a higher authority than the nation’s leader, Kim Jong-Un, is immediately crushed,” said Christian rights and aid group Open Doors.
“Tens of thousands of Christians are incarcerated in horrific labor camps, and thousands more keep their faith in Christ a complete secret – often their family members do not know of their faith,” added Open Doors which has contacts and workers in North Korea.
In 2014, The United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea reportedly concluded that “the gravity, scale and nature” of human rights violations in North Korea “reveal a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world.
Thomas said CSW had appealed to China “to show humanity and exercise responsibility by allowing these and all other North Korean refugees safe passage to South Korea” or a third country. “As it becomes an increasingly influential world power, China must respect international humanitarian norms. Failure to do so renders China directly complicit in North Korea’s crimes against humanity.”
But China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters this week that she was unaware of details of the case. She claimed that China consistently upholds the handling of such matters “in accordance with domestic and international law and humanitarian principles.”
CSW said it has written to the Chinese government annually on the ‘Save North Korean Refugees Day’, organized by several rights groups to request that North Korean refugees in its borders be allowed safe passage to a third country. “Unlike any refugee crisis in the world today, the North Korean refugees have a place to go for immediate resettlement as they are citizens of South Korea, under Articles 2 and 3 of The Republic of Korea Constitution,” CSW said in a statement.
“Furthermore, the United States, as well as other countries, have shown a willingness to accept these refugees for resettlement. There is no reason for them to remain a burden and concern for China and face the threat of repatriation to North Korea where they will most certainly be tortured and imprisoned, and in some cases executed for fleeing their country.”
The tensions added to pressure on U.S. President Trump to tackle human rights in China and North Korea. Trump warned North Korea’s leader that his regime’s days are numbered if it continues its nuclear weapons program that has included firing several nuclear-capable missiles.
“The weapons you are acquiring are not making you safer, they are putting your regime in grave danger,” Trump said during an address at South Korea’s National Assembly in Seoul. “Every step you take down this dark path increases the peril you face.”
He insisted that the United States would not be intimidated by the rogue state. “The regime has interpreted America’s past restraint as weakness,” President Trump said. “This would be a fatal miscalculation. This is a very different administration than the United States has had in the past.”