Bush Asked to Support N. Korean Refugees at Beijing Olympics

A human rights group requested on Wednesday that President Bush wear a "Free North Koreans" wristband during the Beijing Olympics to show solidarity with North Korean refugees who are harshly treated by Chinese authorities.

Suzanne Scholte, chairman of North Korea Freedom Coalition, asked Bush to wear the black wristband and to raise the issue of human rights when he visits China next month.

"When Beijing was chosen as the site of the 2008 Olympics, it was a wonderful cause of celebration for the people of China, but it came with a promise from the government of China that human rights would be improved," Scholte said on Wednesday.

"Tragically, we know now that the opposite has occurred as preparations for the Olympics have led to greater human rights abuses against the Tibetans, Uyghurs, Christians, Falun Gong practitioners, and for my cause, North Korean refugees."

Requests were made in a letter to Bush signed by NKFC, Friends of Falun Gong, American Tibetan Alliance, China Aid Association, Uyghur American Association and Open Doors. The letter was dated July 9 but was released on Wednesday. It asked Bush to request the release of 23 high-profile prisoners of conscience currently jailed by Chinese authorities.

Among the list are four South Koreans who were rescuing North Korean refugees; Gao Zhisheng, a human rights champion and one of China's top ten lawyers; and Christian bookstore owner and publisher Shi Weihan.

Scholte said the four jailed South Koreans, who themselves were defectors from North Korea, were helping North Korean refugees to resettle in South Korea, where they have automatic citizenship.

At least 500,000 North Koreans have crossed the border over to China in the past 10 years to escape hunger and oppression under dictator Kim Jong-il.

Although North Koreans who flee to China are considered by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on North Korea as "refugees," China claims they are "economic migrants" as an excuse to repatriate them to North Korea where they face imprisonment, torture, and sometimes execution for leaving the country – a state crime.

"Tragically, Hu Jintao, has decided he would rather honor the wishes of Kim Jong-il by forcing these refugees back to North Korea, while Kim Jong-il has ordered his security agents to beat the stomach of any pregnant North Korean woman who is repatriated because they are carrying and I quote a 'half-Chinese baby,'" Scholte said.

"How can Hu Jintao believe it is better to be a partner with someone like Kim Jong-il, who wants unborn children killed for simply being part Chinese, rather than partnering with the international community to solve this refugee situation humanely?" she posed.

Scholte urged anyone traveling to the Olympics – whether athlete or spectator – to choose a human rights cause to support by wearing, for instance, the "Free North Koreans" wristbands, a cross honoring the jailed Christians, a Falun Gong T-shirt, a Tibetan flag pin, or a ribbon honoring the Uyghurs.

"Please do not go to Beijing and be silent on the human rights of those who are suffering even more today because of the Olympics," she said.

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