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Chronology of Choi Yong-hun
by his wife, Kim Bong-soon

19 July 2004

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.

29 January 2003

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.

22 April 2003

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 medications.

22 May 2003

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 5,000RMB.

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.

29 May 2003

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.

19 December 2003

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.)

12 January 2004

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.

12 March 2004

Interviewed by KBS broadcast network.

19 March 2004

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.

10 May 2004

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)