At this point, it is hard to guess by what process and upon what rationale North Korea activist and researcher Kim Young Hwan was arrested by the Chinese Ministry of State Security. It is equally hard to understand how the Chinese government can find it appropriate to arrest a man and then fail to provide him with even the minimal due level of legal assistance for almost two months.
Worse even than the situation Kim finds himself in, the three men arrested with him are still completely isolated from the outside world, having allegedly thrown away their right to consular access. Yet with all due respect, it is hard to believe that the men would have “refused consular access of their own accord,” as the Chinese authorities claim. One can almost say it is human nature to want to notify one’s nation and get the protection ordinarily afforded to foreign nationals when accused of a crime, especially when the crime is as serious as that being leveled here; namely, the violation of China’s stringent State Security Law.
It is possible, then, that the Chinese investigation agencies have used violence, intimidation or high-handed investigative techniques on the three men. If these are slanderous untruths, then the Chinese government should immediately and transparently make public their situation and the nature of the precise acts with which they are being charged.
This is like watching the wheels of the South Korean justice system turning some 30 or 40 years ago. It is a confession of the utmost pre-modernity. Under no circumstances is long-term detention and secret interrogation without the assistance of a lawyer justified. It should stop immediately.
The group which is trying to obtain the release of the men, the ‘Committee for the Release of North Korea Human Rights Activist Kim Young Hwan’, has learned that Kim’s arrest took place in Dalian but that Liaoning Province Ministry of State Security then took him to Dandong on the Sino-North Korean border, instead of to the regional capital, Shenyang. Thus, it is widely believed that the North Korean security forces are involved; no other explanation carries much weight.
If so, what is the difference between throwing a piece of meat to a dog and handing Kim to the North Korean National Security Agency, whose men come and go from Dandong as if it were their own house? It is difficult to imagine and there is not yet any direct proof, but if the Chinese authorities are found to be investigating Kim at the behest of North Korea then it simply cannot and should not be condoned. And if North Korea is found to have been involved in Kim’s arrest, then the effect it might have on inter-Korean relations will be hard to predict.