with Hiroshi Kato
December 6, 2002
This interview appeared in ai-JOURNAL, the monthly magazine of
Amnesty International, Germany. The interviewer, Ms. Kerstin Zyber,
asked Mr. Kato by email to respond to 21 questions. Since the subject matter is
especially relevant, we are posting the entire interview
here for your reference.
Q 1: Why did you travel to China in late October?
My trip for the mission was originally planned for Oct. 29 through 31. The main purpose of the trip was to meet the local staff members of our supply network to discuss the distribution of food, 300 sets of winter garments to the North Korean refugees under our protection in China and also the distribution of 5 tons of rice and 100 sets of winter garments in North Korea.
Q 2: Was your detention the first time you got in contact with the Chinese authorities? Is it true that you have been shadowed by Chinese authorities before?
Yes, that was my first experience with detention. Back in August this year, a defector from North Korea who escaped into China wanted to move to Japan and settle there, so I visited China to interview this defector. At that time, a Chinese-Korean who was harbouring the defector reported me to the Chinese police. Because of that informant, a female Chinese-Korean interpreter who had worked for me was summoned to the Security Dept. of Yanbien Korean Autonomous Region. There, she was forced to confess all details about the people we met and the conversations we had with them. This included the information regarding myself and our aid network.
Q 3: Is it true that the Chinese authorities discovered in your personal belongings the names and addresses of many LFNKR supporters in China?
The Chinese authorities confiscated my book with telephone numbers and another with addresses, as well as my camera and cash. The address book carried the names of two of our local network staff members. In addition, the telephone numbers of two more local staff members taking care of our foster children were included in my telephone number book. Three of these four local staff members used false names, but the phone numbers given in the book were their true phone numbers.
Q 4: How has the work of LFNKR changed after you were detained and the Chinese authorities discovered your connections? Can you give an example of your work before and after the incident?
Our network was built to provide food and aid, and that has been seriously compromised, but not completely destroyed. As a matter of fact, we were in the process of building a new local aid network, and we should be able to continue developing this. The disrupted communication network should gradually be recovered. I believe that we can build an even better result than what we lost.
Q 5: Do you know if any LFNKR supporters in China have been detained after the Chinese authorities got hold of your personal notes with the names and addresses?
It seems that one of our local members, who was listed in the confiscated address book, has been detained and is being interrogated. Unfortunately, we have not been able to contact him.
Q 6: Did you get back your personal belongings in the meantime?
Answer: I am not confident that my personal belongings will be returned to me. However, I believe that the confiscation of my cash and camera, which had nothing to do with the charges, is an infringement of my property rights. I intend to expose the Chinese government's actions regarding this matter in court.
Q 7: When were you told that you would be released?
I was expelled at 7:40AM on Nov. 6. I received notice of the deportation at 17:00PM on Nov. 5, which was about 15 hours before I was actually expelled.
Q 8: Does the Japanese government in any way sanctions LFNKR´s commitment for North Koreans refugees?
No, they do not.
Q 9: Is LFNKR merely active in China or does your organisation have any connections in Russia as well?
Yes, our aid activities extend into Russia in addition to China. We have some aid activities in a few areas in Siberia. In Moscow, we also have a few supporting members to extend our aid activities.
Q 10: When and why was LFNKR founded?
LFNKR was founded on Sept. 10, 1998 in order to help as many North Korean refugees as possible. Back then, the presence of the North Korean refugees was not yet known to the world community.
Q 11: How many members do you have and how do you finance your activities? Are you one among many similar organisations in Japan or are you the only one which helps North Korean refugees?
Our NGO has about 200 members right now. The fund depends entirely upon membership fees and personal donations. LFNKR is the only group in Japan that publicly aims at the rescue of North Korean refugees.
Q 12: Why did you start to work for LFNKR?
When I was a high school student, one of my friends was a Korean resident in Japan. In the 1960's, North Korea generated lots of propaganda praising socialism, saying "North Korea is a paradise on earth." Back then, the Japanese society had severe racial discrimination against Korean people, so Koreans in Japan found it extremely hard to get jobs even if they were well qualified. My Korean friend was highly talented and capable, but could not get a job at a major company nor as a college employee, not even as a teacher at a primary school, although he fully deserved employment. Utterly believing the North Korean propaganda, I encouraged him to go to North Korea, telling him that he would even be able to go to Moscow University. He and his family went to North Korea in 1960. He wrote me twice, but I lost contact with him after that. Although I do not think that my own words were what convinced him to go to North Korea, the advice I gave him back then still tortures me. I believe it is my mission to do my best to help as many North Korean refugees as possible and encourage them to recover hope and live happier lives.
Q 13: What are the main activities of LFNKR? Is it the practical support providing a hiding place and some material help or do you strive for a political change in China and maybe in North Korea?
Our primary activity is to supply food and clothing, and the second is to secure housing or shelters and to provide aid for emergency medical treatment. The third activity is represented by our self-reliance project, which helps and encourages the North Korean refugees to make their own living. Some specific examples include the production of knit products and wooden key holders, and working at farms. The fourth activity is represented by our foster parent plan, which is intended to provide refugee orphans and children of disrupted families with minimum necessary education. The fifth activity is to help the refugees to move into third countries where they can settle. It is not our purpose to be involved in any kind of political change in the Chinese government or North Korean government.
Q 14: May I ask you what is your profession and how old are you? Are you an active member of other NGOs?
Answer: I am a journalist, who once gathered news on the Vietnam War. I still continue my work as a journalist. My age is 57. I am not involved in the activities of any other NGOs.
Q 15: Do you know anything about the whereabouts of Mr Kim Gun Nam or Mr Kim Guang Il or the foster children he took care of?
Mr. Kim Gun Nam is believed to have been detained by the Chinese government. I have recently been able to restore contact with Mr. Kim Guang Il. All the foster children are currently safe under his protection.
Q 16: Is the interpreter Mr Masahiro Mizuta a Japanese national as well and was he detained for the same length of time? Are his studies in China in any way in danger at present or can he continue to study like before?
The interpreter, Mr. Mizuta, was released about 5 hours earlier than I was. He was regarded as merely my interpreter rather than being an NGO activist, and he was permitted to stay as a foreign student. However, his Master’s faculty adviser became afraid of possible involvement with the Chinese authorities and rejected Mr. Mizuta's request for guidance in writing his Master's thesis. Hence, he must extend his stay for another year and seek another faculty adviser.
Q 17: Are you the only one who was detained because of his work for LFNKR?
Q 18: How do you find supporters for your work in China?
Sorry, I cannot answer this particular question. Publicly answering this question would destroy the activities of our NGO.
Q 19: Can you tell me the sanctions for Chinese nationals for supporting illegal immigrants?
People of Chinese nationality are subjected to more severe treatment than foreigners are. Torture, such as beating and kicking, are very commonly practiced. I have heard that some were beaten so severely that their bones were broken. North Koreans are beaten to death in some cases.
Q 20: Will you travel to China again when you are allowed to?
I will be able to legally enter China again in 5 years, but no one can foresee 5 years into the future.
Q 21: The fact that more and more refugees flee to foreign embassies in China is a new step in the sad history of North Korean refugees in China. Did it start with the Spanish embassy in the beginning of the year or did it start earlier? Did LFNKR play any role in it or does the organisation support these actions? Is the development somehow similar to the situation of East German refugees in the German embassy in Prague in 1989?xxx
LFNKR played a role in the Spanish embassy incident because we sent the statement signed by the refugees to the world mass media. This incident was broadcast on Chinese television also. The North Korean refugees perhaps took a hint for improving their fates from this incident. As you may see from the series of incidents that followed, in which the refugees ran into foreign diplomatic missions, the involvement of NGOs in organizing the Spanish embassy incident seems to have established the first step for the subsequent wave of such bids.
The practice of dashing into diplomatic missions has already been established, and nobody can stop this flow. Whether NGOs are involved or not, North Korean refugees have found a choice for survival. This is important. The harder the Chinese authorities try to crack down on them, the more insistently the North Korean refugees will try to run into foreign diplomatic missions, because they have no other choice for survival. China will probably not be able to maintain respect as a member of the international community, and will encounter mounting world criticism. Eventually they will be unable to endure their own increasingly bad reputation as a backward country in the area of humanity and human rights.
Mr. Kato I thank you very much for your cooperation!!