China Frees American Who Helped N. Korean Refugees

China released an American citizen imprisoned for four years for the "crime" of helping starving North Korean refugees, reported the head of a North Korea freedom organization Tuesday.

Steve Kim, an American from New York, was held in a Chinese jail since Sept. 23, 2003 after providing food and shelter to North Korean refugees before guiding them to freedom in South Korea, where they have automatic citizenship under the South Korean constitution.

Kim's prison sentence for helping North Korean refugees is believed to be the longest in China for a humanitarian worker.

"In most civilized countries, a person of Kim's compassion and concern for his fellow man would have been lauded and praised and admired," wrote Suzanne Scholte, president of the North Korea Freedom Coalition, in an email.

"[But] Kim's compassionate actions in helping with the North Korea refugee crisis caused the government of China to hunt him down and jail him, charging him with illegally transporting aliens as he was helping North Korean refugees attempt to cross the border," she exclaimed.

Scholte, a well-known and long-time North Korea human rights activist in Washington, recently participated in a North Korean Refugee rally in front of the U.S. Capitol urging Congress to pressure China to stop repatriating refugees from North Korea back to the totalitarian state.

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 revolved around worshipping current dictator Kim Jong Il and his deceased father, Kim Il Sung.

It is said that at least 500,000 North Koreans have crossed the border over to China in the past 10 years. However, 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.

Humanitarian worker Kim, who is not related North Korea's family of dictators, first encountered the suffering of North Koran refugees as an American businessman who traveled frequently to China. As a Christian, he said he could not ignore nor forget the dire needs he witnessed in China. When he returned to America he raised financial support at his home church, Good Neighbor Community Church in Long Island, to help the refugees.

His wife Helen, who made regular visits to her husband's Chinese prison, noted that her husband's faith had sustained him as well as prayers and support from his family – which includes three children – and Good Neighbor Community Church during his prison sentence.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on North Korea considers the North Koreans who flee to China "refugees" deserving of protection. China, however, claims the North Koreans are "economic migrants" and treats them as such, arresting and then ejecting them back to North Korea.

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