S. Korean photographer returns home from Chinese jail


Urges S. Koreans to do more for N. Koreans

SEOUL�A South Korean photographer jailed in China for trying to record a failed escape by North Koreans returned home Friday urging South Koreans renew their efforts to aid desperate North Korean refugees.

Seok Jae-hyun said he wasn�t told of his release until 10 a.m. Friday. Seven hours later, he was back in Seoul. Seok spent 14 months in jail following his arrest in January 2003 in the Chinese port city of Yantai while reporting on North Koreans trying to flee to Japan and South Korea in fishing boats.

"We must look at the issue [of North Korean refugees] as a multi-faceted problem," he told RFA�s Korean service. "The problem isn�t just what you hear and see in the media� North Korean refugees give children while living in China [so] the second generation of the refugees is also a problem we should look into. We need to broaden our views to a variety of problems generated by the issue."

Seok said prison guards didn�t treat him harshly. "But I was monitored and supervised more than any other prisoner by the prison authorities," he added. "I think this was because of the concern and interest shown by the Korean and the world community, and by the media in my case. Some prisoners were forced to do hard labor, but not me. i could read books, though it was only a few months."

"I used to dream in my cell that I had been reunited with my family, friends, and loved ones, but I would then be disappointed when I woke up and realized it was only a dream. When I heard this morning that I would be released, it was a dream come true," he said. "It was so hard to accept, even after I was on the plane."

Seok was released Friday from a prison in Weifang city in Shandong Province, China, and arrived at Inchon International Airport, west of Seoul, after a flight across the Yellow Sea. Seok, 34, a freelance journalist who had worked for The New York Times and South Korea's Geo magazine, received a two-year sentence for human-trafficking last May and his appeal was rejected in December.

Seok was accused of organizing the asylum attempt. Activists say he was picked up during a sting operation by police who pretended to help the North Koreans. They say 48 North Koreans were detained in the operation, most of them in the eastern Chinese port of Yantai.

Seok thanked the South Korean government for keeping up pressure for his release. He wasn�t allowed to say goodbye to fellow South Korean detainee Choi Yong-hoon, he said, because his release came so quickly.

One North Korean refugee jailed with Seok received a two-year jail term, he said, and "once he finishes his term, he will be sent back to North Korea. We should come up with some way to help him [before that happens," he said.

Seok also said he would continue working on assignments for The New York Times, although he declined to describe them.

Up to 300,000 North Koreans fleeing famine and repression are believed to be living secretly in China. #####


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