Outrage as Chinese Christians are imprisoned for aiding North Korean refugees

Chinese officials in Erlianhaote city have sentenced two Christians – Miss Li Mingshun and Mr. Zhang Yonghu to 10 and 7 years respectively in prison, for aiding North Korean refugees fleeing to South Korea through China.

|PIC1|ChinaAid Association reported Monday that Li and Zhang were among several Christians helping to provide food, shelter, and transportation for the 61 refugees crossing Northern Chinese provinces into Mongolia, where neutral state laws permit residents to seek asylum in South Korea.

The report said the Border Brigade of Erlianhaote city were alerted as the refugees crossed into Mongolia, they travelled to Qindao, Heilongjiang province. They arrested Li Mingshun on 29 April.

The subsequent trial was held on 17 August in the Erlianhaote City People's Court. Human rights lawyers defending Li and Zhang had hoped to raise international awareness concerning the Chinese government's treatment of North Korean refugees through this case.

However, on 30 August 2009, Ms. Li was found guilty for her humanitarian work by the Erlianhaote Procuratorate, officially for "human smuggling across the border." She was sentenced to ten years in prison. Ms. Li's family in Qindao City received the verdict the morning of 30 August.

Meanwhile, Mr. Zhang received a seven-year sentence for organising transportation for the refugees to Inner Mongolia. Li's family reports they will be submitting an appeal for Li and Zhang's lawful release.

ChinaAid said the verdict underscores years of continued persecution for North Koreans in China, who have been denied refugee-status by the Chinese government and repatriated in violation of the UNHCR Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, which China signed in 1982.

The costs of repatriation are dire. Refugees face charges of treason upon their return to the home country, punishable by death, detention and/or lifelong imprisonment in labour camps.

It is also alleged that detained Korean women and children in China are frequently sold into the sex-slave trade, disappearing from the formal record into the human trafficking void.

Many Chinese and Korean Christians, like Li and Zhang, work with underground networks to aid these refugees as they seek freedom from persecution, only to be arrested and charged as criminals.

President of ChinaAid Xiqiu ‘Bob’ Fu commented on Li and Zhang’s sentences: “I am shocked at how the Chinese government treats its own humanitarian workers. They are innocent! We must urge the international community to voice their concerns for the persecuted North Korean refugees and the humanitarian workers who serve them in their time of need."

He further calls for the Chinese government to honour the Li family’s appeal, find them innocent under the Chinese law, and release Li Mingshun and Zhang Yonghu.

ChinaAid has requested the international community to contact the Erlianhaote City People’s Procuratorate and Government to urge them to release Li Mingshun and Zhang Yonghu and to respect and uphold human rights for North Korean refugees.

The contact details can be found at the homepage of the ChinaAid website: www.chinaaid.org