Choi Yong Hun Not Receiving His Mail in Prison

First Some Good News: 

The South Korean aid worker, Kim Hee-tae, was found “not guilty” last month and released after being detained for nearly two years.

He was arrested while leading a group of North Korean defectors to Beijing to submit an official request for refugee status.

Meanwhile, in other Developments:

Choi Yong-hun, the jailed South Korean aid worker

Choi Yong-hun, the jailed South Korean aid worker

Choi Yong-hun, the South Korean aid worker sentenced to five years in prison for attempting to help North Korean refugees, has served 1 year and 7 months in prison, and there are deep concerns about his worsening health conditions.

At the Conference, it was reaffirmed that the imprisonment of these two is entirely because China continues to ignore international law, the refugees convention, to which it is a signatory nation.At the International Conference held in Tokyo in July, attended by NGOs from six countries, the rescue of Choi Yong-hun and Park Yong-chol, both arrested together and detained at the same prison, was one of the important issues discussed.

It was resolved to step up joint international efforts for winning their early release. Also at the Conference, cash donations totaled enough to allow Kim Bong Soon and her two daughters to visit Choi Yong-hun in the prison in China.

Below is her report.

Kim Bong Soon’s Visit to Husband (Aug. 2004)

Kim Bong Soon reports on her visit to imprisoned husband Choi Yong-hun

Kim Bong Soon reports on her visit to imprisoned husband Choi Yong-hun

At 2:00 PM on August 16, my two daughters and I were issued visitor permits at Weifang Prison, Shandongsheng, China

Before we were allowed to enter the prison, guards inspected every item we had brought for my husband. They even ripped open cigarette packages, saying they wanted to check the contents. Eventually, they decided we could carry in only the medicines we had brought.

The moment we stepped into the meeting room, we sensed an atmosphere of terror. My husband had grown even thinner and more frail since my last visit. He and I and our two daughters all cried together. He hugged the sobbing girls and offered up a prayer of gratitude.

An interpreter monitored our conversation and took notes of everything we said. The monitor often bellowed at us to speak more loudly so he could hear every word. We were allowed only 20 minutes together, and it flashed by so, so quickly.

We cried more than we talked. For our last visit, in May, they had allowed us nearly 60 minutes together.

I was shocked to discover that my husband had been transferred to a bigger cell which houses twenty inmates, some of them murderers. Judging from his appearance, it was obvious that his treatment is more harsh in this new cell.

Prison officials have blocked him from buying food and basic daily necessities with the cash I gave him last time. They claimed the punishment was because he had spent more in a month than the rules allowed, although he had never been told of such a spending limit. He had purchased food and necessities also for the North Korean refugee, Mr. Park Yong-chol, who is detained in the same prison.

It is no wonder that my husband has lost so much weight and grown so weak. I felt crushed and overwhelmed with sorrow for him.

My husband was told that his prison term could be reduced if he earned “points” for good behavior, but he discovered that the rating recorded for him was negative points, meaning it is nearly hopeless for him to be released before his 5-year term is finished.

Appallingly, he has received absolutely none of the mails from his friends, nor the post cards sent from Japan to encourage him.

None of the family pictures from me, our daughters or his parents have reached him at all since May. This outraged me and I asked the reluctant interpreter to explain why. He answered that the mails were still being inspected. They have not yet finished checking the mails received back in May?

How can he hang on when he is being denied every last source of encouragement, even the letters from his family?

Kim Bong Soon, wife of Choi Yong-hun