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Kim Bong Soon, Wife of
Choi Yong Hun, Imprisoned in China

Urges Continued Support for Imprisoned Aid Workers

Choi Yong Hun, shown here with his two daughters, has been incarcerated in Yantai, Shandong Province since January 2003 for his attempt to help North Korean refugees escape from China by boat.

He was sentenced to 5 years for his humanitarian efforts..

Kim Bong Soon speaks:
On July 12, while I was working
as usual at the sewing factory, the needle on my sewing machine suddenly broke and a chip from it flew into my eye. It hurt so bad that I couldn’t even stand. I squatted, almost suffocating from the pain. I couldn’t bear to open my eyes.

In desperation, I prayed fervently, “God, if I can no longer work here, what will happen to my two daughters and my husband jailed in China? Please help us. If I fall apart right now, what will my family do? God, please help me.”

Within seconds, the needle chip came out onto the tissue paper I was using to cover my eye. The pain suddenly went away and I opened my eye. I felt God’s invisible hands helping me, and I cried tears of gratitude.

I also prayed for the release of my husband, the important, irreplaceable father of my two daughters. It has been one year and seven months since my husband was imprisoned in China.

For most people, now living in peace, that year and seven months may seem like a very short time. For us, as we live without the breadwinner of our family, it feels like an endless dark tunnel.

Three months before my husband was captured by the Chinese police, I moved to Yantai, Shandong Province in China with our two daughters. This was where my husband was working. We planned to stay in China for a long time, so we sold our house and household goods in South Korea.

As soon as my husband was arrested in China, all our Chinese friends and the people who had worked closely with him disappeared. I trusted one Chinese man who firmly promised to get my husband out of the jail. I handed him all the money I had, never doubting. I never saw this man again.

I felt lost, but had to concentrate on escaping with my daughters from the Chinese authorities. At this time, Rev. Choi, one of my husband’s acquaintances, helped us get back to South Korea. What we found back in my homeland was a penniless life. Our two daughters, Suji and Son-hee, and I had no choice but to move from relative to relative for the next two months, and we could not live together at one place. Suji and Son-hee, of course, had a hard time adapting to the sudden drastic change in their life. They cried every night. Through all of this, the letters and support received through the Japanese NGO, Life Funds for North Korean Refugees, have helped us to hang on.

On March 19 this year, the South Korean photo journalist, Mr. Seok Jae-hyun, who had been arrested with my husband and detained in the same prison, was released. I was hoping to see my husband also be released at the same time and the two of them returning together to Seoul. My hopes were crushed when only the photo journalist came back.

When I think about my husband in that Chinese prison, I want to fly to him and cheer him up, but I must put the priority on working hard and earning a living to support our daughters and to send him money in prison.

On May 10 this year, the money I saved enabled me and our younger daughter, Son-hee to go visit my husband. At the prison, my husband held Son-hee in his arms from the start of our visit to the very last moment. I felt that being with us gave him hope and the motivation to survive despite his poor health. We want him back as soon as possible; that’s the only one thing we wish for.

My husband had already been suffering from chronic diabetes, hypertension and asthma, but in prison his health is deteriorating further. He really needs medical treatment before it is too late. Please help him. Nobody else can replace him as father of our daughters. His parents’ health has also suffered because of their son’s difficulties. His mother had to undergo heart surgery soon after he was arrested. His father tells me that whenever he tries to eat, he can only think about his son incarcerated in prison in China, and he has no appetite because of the grief. The prolonged detention of my husband is torturing his aged parents.

One of the things my husband most urgently needs is prescription medicines. The prison officials seem finally to have recognized the seriousness of his health problems, and they at last allowed me to hand my husband the prescriptions I brought for him on our May 10th visit. To hand him the medicines he needs, I really should visit him once a month, but that is almost impossible for me to do in my present situation.

I learned that the prisoners in China must pay for all their expenses, including their own clothing and food, so that life in prison becomes much harder if they get no cash or supplies from outside. My husband has been handing most of the cash and supplies he receives from me to Mr. Park Yong Chol, the North Korean refugee who was arrested together with my husband and detained with him.

I have discovered that the way the prison officers treat each prisoner depends upon the financial status of the prisoner or his supporters. This includes how often cash and goods are sent to the prisoner and who comes to visit him. These factors clearly cause the prison officers to change their language and attitude toward each prisoner.

If aid workers detained in Chinese prisons are relatively wealthy or if they have something to attract media attention, then they may even have the opportunity to win early release. If an aid worker is not rich or has nothing to attract media interest, like my husband, then he can easily receive the harshest treatment. He fights the agony of despair every day.

I have experienced the fear of being forgotten and have been betrayed by persons I trusted. At times I felt like disappearing from this world. But when I saw the videotape my husband took, I decided to hang on. In the video, North Korean people talked about their unbelievably wretched lives, and I saw how my husband dedicated himself to rescuing these suffering people.

I have been telling my daughters that their father is in prison not because he did anything wrong, but that he was courageous enough to do the right thing. On the other hand, there is this reality: our life without him has forced us into severe financial hardship. In addition to serving five years in prison, he must pay a 30,000 RMB fine. (This is about US$4,090).

I implore all of you here today. I know you’re all very concerned about the plight of North Korean refugees.

My husband, still in prison, has repeatedly told me that he will continue to dedicate his life to the rescue of North Korean refugees after he is released. I ask you to help get him out of prison before his health deteriorates even further. Please help me go visit him once every month so that I can hand him the medicines he needs.

Also, please do not forget about Mr. Park Yong Chol, who is expected to be released next year. He is very fearful of his release because it means he will be immediately repatriated to North Korea.

My husband has been asking for every possible assistance to protect Mr. Park from being sent back to North Korea. I ask you also to send Mr. Park letters of encouragement and support.

Thank you.
Kim Bong Soon (Choi Yong-hun’s wife)