A North Korean survivor turned activist faces trial in China Monday for helping North Korean refugees, a U.K.-based human rights group reported.
Yoo Sang-joon was arrested near the Chinese-Mongolian border while trying to rescue other North Koreans from danger in China, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide.
According to the group, activists in South Korea consider Yoo's case unique because of his tragic background and "redemptive sacrificial motivation."
"We are naturally deeply concerned for Mr. Yoo. It would be abhorrent if, after suffering such a terrible tragedy with the death of his son as he tried to escape from China, the Chinese authorities would punish him for seeking to save others from a similar fate," said CSW's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas.
Yoo's motivation for helping North Korean refugees reportedly stems from his own tragic personal story. After his wife and youngest son died in the North Korean famine, the weakened Yoo – realizing that he and his remaining son would likely suffer the same fate – had decided to flee to China.
Unable to travel together, his son Chul Min, 10, attempted to escape across the Mongolian border. However, unfamiliar with the inhospitable terrain, he wandered for 26 hours and – suffering from dehydration and weakened from the famine – died before crossing the border, according to CSW.
Yoo himself was able to reach South Korea and is a citizen, but the sense of loss and pain has continued to haunt him, driving him to endanger his own safety to help those at risk in China, especially children.
"We sincerely hope that China will not punish Mr. Yoo for simply seeking to implement the protection which China should itself be providing under international refugee law," Thomas stated.
It is said that at least 500,000 North Koreans have crossed the border over to China in the past 10 years. Although U.N. Special Rapporteur on North Korea considers the North Koreans who flee to China "refugees" deserving of protection, China has signed an agreement with its communist ally to return refugees back to North Korea where they face imprisonment, torture, and sometimes execution for leaving the country – a state crime.
China, in defense of its actions, has claimed North Koreans entering its country are "economic migrants" and not refugees and thus it has the right to return them.
North Korea is one of the most repressive regimes in the world and is ranked by the ministry Open Doors as the world's worst persecutor of Christians. Citizens of the communist state are forced to adhere to a personality cult that revolves around worshipping current dictator Kim Jong Il and his deceased father, Kim Il Sung.
U.S. human rights activists have urged people not to travel to Beijing to attend the 2008 Olympics unless China grants the United Nation's refugee agency, UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), access to North Koreans hiding in its territory.
CSW urges Christians to write to Chinese authorities to convey their concern for Mr. Yoo.
On the Web: www.china.org.cn