by his wife, Kim Bong-soon
18 January 2003
My husband, Choi Yong-hun, was captured by the
Chinese police while helping North Korean refugees escape from
China via fishing boat in Yantai, Shandong Province.
After my husband was detained by the Chinese
police, I ran away with my two daughters, leaving China and returning
to my homeland in South Korea.
I went to the court in Yantai to witness the
first trial held on April 22. The deputy consul general of the
South Korea Embassy in Beijing made arrangements for me to speak
with my husband for 10 minutes in the court gallery. It was a
warm day, but my husband was shivering. He was obviously deeply
chilled, even though wearing winter clothing. His eyes were red
and his body bloated; he seemed to be having difficulty standing
up straight, probably because of the hardships in prison in addition
to his chronic diabetes, hypertension and asthma.
Through a prison official, I tried to leave
my husband some underwear and prescription medications that I
had brought for him, but the official refused to accept the medicine.
I wept every time I imagined my husband suffering without his
On May 22, 2003, at the Chinese People’s
Court in Yantai, Shandong Province, my husband was sentenced to
5 years in prison and fined 30,000RMB. He had been charged and
convicted under Chinese Criminal Code Article 318, which relates
to organizing illegal border crossings. Seok Jae-hyun, a South
Korean photo journalist, was arrested together with my husband.
He was sentenced to 2 years in prison and fined 5,000RMB. Park
Yong-ho, a Korean Chinese who had helped my husband, was sentenced
to 3 years in prison and fined 10,000RMB. Park Yong-chol, the
North Korean refugee, was sentenced to 2 years in prison and fined
In contrast to my husband’s relatively
healthy appearance back in April, he now looked skinny, probably
because of the poor prison diet, compounded by his chronic diseases.
I was deeply distressed by his apparently deteriorating health.
To prepare for the appeal, I appointed a new
lawyer, one who was fluent in Korean, to replace the previous
court-appointed attorney, who spoke no Korean and could not communicate
with my husband. On May 29, I submitted the necessary document
for the appeal. Encouraged by the warm support from Japan, I started
a petition campaign with my two daughters and my husband’s
elderly mother. We sent signed petitions to President Hu Jintao,
China’s Justice Ministry, the General Manager of Yantai
City the Security Police, the Chinese Ambassador to South Korean,
the President of South Korea, the South Korean Ministry of Foreign
Affairs, and others.
To my bitter disappointment, the appeal on December
11 dashed everyone’s expectations despite the efforts of
our family and the support from Japan. At the appeal hearing,
my husband was given no chance to speak. The session ended with
a written verdict being issued, which bore exactly the same contents
as the verdict issued on May 22.
When the deputy consul general stationed in
Beijing visited my husband on Dec. 19, my husband secretly handed
him letters addressed to his two daughters, relatives and supporting
members. He was not even allowed to write letters in prison, so
he created the letters by cutting out printed characters from
the Bible and pasting them on a page. (The Bible was given to
him by the deputy consul general.)
The letters my husband created have become widely
known in South Korea. One South Korean news organization and a
South Korean church offered financial help, and arrangements were
made for us. After about a year, my two daughters, my husband’s
mother and I were allowed to visit him on January 12. A journalist
accompanied us, but was not allowed to meet with my husband. Our
visit with him was limited to 30 minutes. All during our conversation,
a Korean Chinese working for the prison monitored our conversation.
My husband looked worn and depressed; however,
he seemed relieved to see Suji, our elder daughter, because he
had been worrying about her. Crying, he apologized to his mother
for causing her such trouble and grief. He repeatedly said that
it was important to ask for help so as to prevent the North Korean
refugee, Park Yong-chol, from being repatriated upon release.
He told me that he had been studying Chinese law and Chinese language
eight hours every day under a compulsory program.
Interviewed by KBS broadcast network.
Seok Jae-hyun, the photo journalist who had
been detained together with my husband on the same charge, was
released. I was hoping to see my husband also released and returning
with him. But only Seok Jae-hyun came back. I continued praying.
My younger daughter, Son-hee, and I visited
my husband. This time, we were allowed to talk with him for almost
an hour, although we were monitored by a prison officer. His mother
called my cellular phone several times while we were in the prison,
which made the prison officer nervous. He told me not to hand
the phone to my husband, that he could not receive the calls from
his mother. Throughout the visit, he held Son-hee on his lap.
I found that most of the cash and supplies I
had sent to him were handed on to the North Korean refugee detained
in the same prison. Again, he asked me to make every possible
effort to protect the North Korean refugee from being repatriated.
He also told me not to worry too much, since
he had already became accustomed to life in prison, and he said
that we did not have to come visit so that we could save money.
I have no idea why some aid workers who were
arrested and detained under the same charge have been released
earlier than the rest. Sometimes, it looks like a whim on China’s
part. I want my husband back. How long will the people of the
Chinese government and judiciary keep on torturing us by holding
my husband? Don’t they have any children or aged parents?
Please do not drown a person who tries to help
downing people. I pray for leniency by the Chinese government,
and I hope we will be able to get my husband back to us soon.
Kim Bong Soon
(Wife of Choi Yong-hun)