The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemns the prolonged detention of South Korean photojournalist Jae Hyun Seok, who was arrested on January 17. Seok is expected to appear for a court hearing within the next few days, according to his family.
Seok was arrested while photographing the exodus of 48 North Korean refugees who boarded two fishing boats in Yantai, Shandong Province, bound for South Korea and Japan. The refugees and a South Korean human rights activist were also arrested, although several of the North Koreans have subsequently been deported to South Korea, where they will seek asylum. Seok is currently being held in a high-security prison in Yantai, according to his family.
The Chinese government has accused Seok of human smuggling and vowed to punish him “severely.” On March 31, a representative from the Public Prosecutor’s Office in Yantai told The Associated Press that, “We have made a public prosecution against Seok…on charges of organizing the smuggling.” However, Seok’s family told CPJ that they have not been notified of formal charges filed against him.
Seok, 34, is a free-lance photographer who works regularly for a number of South Korean and American publications, including the New York Times. He was photographing the North Koreans in Yantai as part of a journalistic project documenting the plight of North Korean refugees in China, according to his colleagues and family.
In recent years, hundreds of thousands of North Korean refugees have fled famine and severe political repression by crossing the border into China. From there, they often try to reach a third country to seek asylum. The Chinese government considers the refugees to be economic migrants and regularly repatriates them to North Korea, where may they face imprisonment and other types of persecution.
As a nonpartisan organization of journalists dedicated to defending press freedom worldwide, CPJ condemns the detention of Jae Hyun Seok. He has committed no crime. On the contrary, he was doing nothing more at the time of his arrest than fulfilling his professional duty as a photographer by documenting the refugees in Yantai.
Seok is one of 39 journalists currently imprisoned in China, making the country the leading jailer of journalists for the fourth year in a row. We respectfully remind Your Excellency that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which China has signed, guarantees the “freedom to seek, receive and impart information of all kinds, regardless of frontiers.” We call on your government to release Jae Hyun Seok immediately and unconditionally.
Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We await your response.