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China told to let N Koreans stay
US watchdog says refugees forcibly sent back face torture and harsh interrogations.
Last Modified: 16 Apr 2008 08:05 GMT

Former North Korean officers say monitoring of border areas has been stepped up [GALLO/GETTY]


A US watchdog has called on China to stop repatriating North Koreans, stating that many forced to return face torture because of their Christian beliefs.

 

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom said North Koreans returned from China face some of the harshest measures used to suppress religions in the North.

"If it is discovered that they have either converted to Christianity while in China or had contact with South Koreans -- both of which are considered to be political offences - they reportedly suffer harsh interrogation, torture and ill-treatment", the report released on Tuesday said.

The commission called on the international community to pressure Beijing to stop repatriating refugees and provide increased protection as required by international protocols

 

"Such action should begin immediately as China prepares to host the 2008 Summer Olympics", the report said.

 

Olympic pressure

 

The commission's findings come as Beijing faces intense criticism in the run up to the August Olympics over its crackdown on anti-Beijing protesters in Tibet and for what critics say is Beijing's refusal to do more to influence the Sudan government to stop violence in its Darfur region.

 

Patrols try to prevent North Koreans crossing
the Yalu River into north China [GALLO/GETTY]
Up to 300,000 North Korean refugees are believed to have fled impoverishment at home to China, which terms them economic migrants and forcibly repatriates them back.

 

The commission's 49-page report, "A Prison Without Bars", is based on interviews with 32 refugees and six former North Korean security agents.

 

Refugees quoted in the report said that merely owning a Bible could lead to arrests, disappearances and even deaths of those repatriated, who were treated "just like animals".

 

"It's up to the condition of the guards. Because killing a prisoner will do no harm for them," one interviewee said.

 

Another refugee, identified only as interviewee 39, claimed that "a person was shot to death" on a riverside in Hoeryeong, a North Korean city along the border with China, for accepting a Bible from South Korean priests.

 

Refugees quoted in the report also said they witnessed the sale of North Korean women refugees to syndicates in China.

 

Women for sale

 

"It is just like trading goods. Because [North Korean women] don't speak Chinese, they are sold and treated like slaves", one interviewee said.

 

North Korean police, the security agents told interviewers, have increased efforts to stop religious activity along the border with China.

 

"It is just like trading goods. Because [North Korean women] don't speak Chinese, they are sold and treated like slaves"

Commission interviewee

North Korean security agents make a special effort to target those believed to have visited Chinese churches for food aid or other forms of immediate assistance.

 

Former North Korean security agents told the commission that authorities set up mock prayer meetings to entrap new converts in North Korea and train staff in Christian practices for the purposes of infiltrating churches in China.

 

Pyongyang views new religious activity as a security threat in a country dominated by the personality cult that surrounds North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and his family, according to the commission.

 

Many of the aid groups providing clandestine help to North Koreans in China are funded by Christian groups from South Korea, which sends more Christian missionaries overseas than any other nation except the US.

Source:
Agencies
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