New York, December 23, 2003—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemns the continued detention of South Korean freelance photographer Jae Hyun Seok.

On December 19, a court in Shandong Province rejected an appeal filed by Seok and upheld his two year sentence on charges of human trafficking, according to CPJ sources. The appeal hearing, which was originally set for June, was postponed until mid-July and then further delayed without explanation.

Seok, a freelance photographer who worked regularly for The New York Times, was arrested on January 18, 2003, while filming North Korean refugees who were attempting to flee China on boats bound for South Korea and Japan. Seok was filming the boatlift as part of a journalistic project documenting the plight of North Korean refugees in China, according to his friends and colleagues who spoke with him shortly before he was arrested.

On May 22, a court in Yantai, Shandong, sentenced Seok to two years in prison on charges of human trafficking. A South Korean aid worker, two Chinese nationals, and a North Korean who were present during the boatlift operation were also sentenced to two to seven years on similar charges.

According to CPJ sources, while in prison, Seok has suffered from a skin infection on his face, as well as other medical problems.

Thirty-eight journalists are currently in prison in China, although Seok is the only foreigner on that list. In August, two South Korean journalists, Kim Seung Jin and Geum Myeong Seok, were detained in Shanghai while filming North Korean refugees who were attempting to gain asylum by entering a school run by the Japanese government. Kim and Geum were released and deported from China three weeks later.

“By keeping Jae Hyun Seok in prison, China’s leaders are threatening all foreign correspondents who report on issues that may be embarrassing for the Chinese government,” said CPJ’s Deputy Director Joel Simon. “Jae Hyun Seok was simply carrying out his journalistic duty and should be released immediately and unconditionally.”

Read more about Jae Hyun Seok’s case.