China Seized Defector Footage

Activists say Chinese authorities have video of North Korean defectors filmed by two U.S. reporters who were jailed by North Korea and then expelled.
2009-08-24
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Former President Bill Clinton and Al Gore accompany Laura Ling and Euna Lee at a press conference, Aug. 5, 2009.
Former President Bill Clinton and Al Gore accompany Laura Ling and Euna Lee at a press conference, Aug. 5, 2009.
RFA/Xiao Rong
SEOULAuthorities in northeast China seized video footage shot by two U.S. journalists who were arrested by North Korea while investigating the plight of North Korean defectors in China, human rights workers said.

According to the North Korea Freedom Coalition, a cameraman working with Current TV journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling was still on the Chinese side of the border when the two women were arrested, and the footage he carried is now in the possession of Chinese authorities.

North Korea Freedom Coalition Chairman Suzanne Scholte said that when Lee and Ling were arrested March 17, videotape was confiscated from their cameraman by Chinese police and used to identify North Korean defectors.

Lee and Ling were sentenced to 12 years' hard labor by a Pyongyang court in June after they traveled to the region to film North Korean defectors across the border in China.

Chinese authorities also seized documents from missionary Rev. Lee Chan Wook, 71, of Durihana Church, whose orphanage for North Korean second-generation defector children in China was filmed by the two journalists.

"The Chinese authorities asked me to shut down [the orphanage]," said Rev. Lee, whose orphanage formed a crucial part of an underground railroad network engaged in helping North Korean defectors in China.

The U.S. State Department estimates that 30,000-50,000 North Korean refugees currently live in China, but some nongovernmental organizations say the number is closer to 300,000.

"Everything was in the documents taken from me," he said, referring to detailed background information on the children in his care and contact information for human rights activists working with North Korean defectors in China.

Women covered too

Ling and Lee, who had admitted violating North Korean law in an attempt to shoot television footage, were pardoned and flew home in early August after a personal visit to Pyongyang by former U.S. President Bill Clinton.

Chinese authorities deported Rev. Lee to South Korea on April 8. Before he left, Rev. Lee sent some children to Chinese families and evacuated others to a secret location.

Rev. Lee said that Current TV cameraman Mitch Koss had videotapes in his possession of Lee's orphanage when he was detained by public security bureau officials on the Chinese side of the border on March 17, and that police had told him during interrogation that they had seized them.

He said that in addition to covering his orphanage, the two reporters had also covered North Korean women defectors offering online sexual services via video chat.

Such footage could result in more security crackdowns for North Korean defectors in China, said Rev. Lee, who paid a U.S. $3,200 fine before being deported.

North Korean women who cross the border into China fleeing hunger and repression in their homeland frequently fall victim to human traffickers who sell them to Chinese men in search of wives.

Those who escape these 'marriages,' which can sometimes be abusive, have scant recourse to law, and risk deportation to North Korea.

Chinese authorities regard the women as economic migrants rather than genuine political asylum-seekers and often send them back to North Korea, where they can face punishment as political traitors.

The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea has called on Beijing to prosecute human traffickers and allow thousands of North Koreans access to asylum screenings by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Original reporting in Korean by Jung Young. Korean service director: Insop Han. Written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

CH. 1: MANDARIN | CANTONESE

CH. 2: VIETNAMESE | BURMESE | KOREAN

CH. 3: KHMER | LAO | UYGHUR

CH. 4: TIBETAN

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