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2nd Part of Boat-People Trial

China's Legal Tactics So Far Are Suspect

May 9 -- Letter to China's Ministry of Justice

LFNKR sent the following letter by Express Mail Service to the Ministry of Justice of the People's Republic of China on May 9.

We urge everyone to carefully watch the next session of this proceeding so that the defendants will have a greater chance of a fair trial.

Kenkichi Nakadaira
Life Funds for North Korean Refugees

Ministry of Justice of People's Republic of China
Minister of Justice

Your Excellency,

In January this year, three humanitarian aid workers, Mr. Choi Yong-hun (South Korean), Mr. Park Yong-ho (Korean Chinese), Mr. Jo Yong-sun and photojournalist, Mr. Soek Jae- hyun (South Korean) were arrested in Yantai city, Shandong province, China for allegedly assisting North Koreans who were attempting to leave China by boat. The first trial connected with this Yantai Boat People Incident was held in April 22 in Yantai City Development District.

An analysis of reports from observers attending this trial reveals that China exhibits an outrageous lack in its sense of justice. Further, the way the trial is being carried out is seriously prejudicial to the defendants. In addition, the trial itself presents material difficulties. Below are problems observed at the first session of the trial.

First, the interpreter assigned by the Chinese authorities is critically flawed. This female han Chinese interpreter worked as interpreter for both sides, the prosecution and the defense. It is glaringly obvious that fairness in the trial cannot be preserved when using the same interpreter for opposing sides.

Furthermore, this interpreter misinterpreted a basic word, "nationality" as "international." Further, she was unable even to differentiate between the past and present tense and between passive and active voice. This is clear evidence that the skill level and quality of her interpretation are very low.

Another example came when the defendant was asked about the participation of any Westerners in the planning of the incident. The interpreter was unable to interpret the word "Westerner." It appeared, in fact, that she did not even understand the word nor have a concept of what a "Westerner" is.

The defense lawyer for Mr. Soek Jae-hyon was fortunately fluent in both Chinese and Korean. Thus, he repeatedly pointed out and corrected as many misinterpretations as possible. However, to hold a trial related to this kind of international case with such poor interpretation is highly inappropriate and suggests that it is not possible to expect a fair judgment.

Second, the defense lawyer for Mr. Choi Yong-hun also presented problems. This lawyer was not appointed by either Mr. Choi or his family. Further, he had not consulted before the trial with either the defendant or his family about the plea to be entered. Absent an effort to communicate with either the defendant or the defendant's family, especially since meetings between the defendant and his family are prohibited, the lawyer will be unable to enter a fair plea. Moreover, this defense lawyer does not even understand the Korean language, which precludes his pointing out any misinterpretations by the interpreter.

The defense lawyer for Mr. Choi can only depend on the interpreter arranged by the prosecution, and this limitation is causing grave fears among the defendant's family, who are now expressing their intention to appoint a new defense lawyer. This wish by the family must be heard.

It is our deep concern that such a trial will make it impossible to secure a fair hearing for Mr. Choi Yong-hun, Mr. Park Yong-ho, Mr. Soek Jae-hyon, and Mr. Jo Yong-sun who were arrested at the same time on the same charges. In addition, this trial is treating Mr. Jo Yong-sun as a person of undecided nationality. This places the trial in a very equivocal light.

With all the above conditions considered, we are firmly convinced that the credibility of this trial is questionable and further that the defendants are not receiving a fair trial.

The defendant, Mr. Choi Yong-hun states his thoughts on the first pleading as follows: "All humans in the world are born to be loved. North Korean refugees cross the border to China to escape from hunger. There, they become targets for human trafficking, or they are forced to steal simply to survive in China. Meanwhile, Chinese authorities hunt them down. I decided to assist these people, hoping to be of some help."

We are closely watching how the trial proceeds; we will distribute the record of the trial via e-mail to the international humanitarian organizations, NGOs, UNHCR, Amnesty International and other organizations that have a vested interest in the outcome of this trial.

It is our most sincere hope that the Chinese government and judicial authorities will consider the nature of the Yantai Boat People Incident and hold a fair trial in accordance with international laws and the most basic humanitarian principles.

Kenkichi Nakadaira
Life Funds for North Korean Refugees
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