Jae Hyun Seok

Beats Covered:
Local or Foreign:

Freelance photojournalist Seok was arrested by Chinese police while photographing two groups of about 60 North Korean refugees in Yantai, Shandong Province, who were trying to board two fishing boats bound for Cheju Island, South Korea, and Sasebo Island, Japan. Officers also arrested the refugees and a South Korean aid worker.

Seok, a South Korean national, 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. Seok regularly works for The New York Times and other publications but was working independently at the time of his arrest.

Soon after Seok was detained, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson acknowledged that two South Koreans were arrested with the refugees, but she did not confirm their identities. “They are suspected of smuggling or organizing smuggling activities and now are in criminal detention,” she said.

On May 22, a Yantai court sentenced Seok to two years in prison on charges of human trafficking. On December 19, a court in Shandong Province rejected an appeal filed by Seok and upheld his original sentence. The appeal hearing, which was originally set for June 2003, was postponed until mid-July and then further delayed without explanation.

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

In recent years, hundreds of thousands of North Koreans have fled to China to escape severe food shortages and political repression. China considers the refugees economic migrants and regularly repatriates them to North Korea, where they often face imprisonment or other types of persecution. As a part of the Chinese government’s crackdown on North Korean refugees, authorities have harassed journalists who report on their plight.