US-based human rights group Human Rights Watch on Tuesday said seven North Korean defectors are in custody in China and urged Beijing to take steps to protect them.
According to Human Rights Watch, the seven North Koreans were taken into custody on April 28 and held in Anshan, Liaoning province. It cited unnamed South Koreans assisting families of the detainees.
Human Rights Watch said the detainees consist of a 10-year-old girl, three men and three women. Some of the detainees had arrived in China in recent weeks, while others had been living in areas near the border with North Korea for several years.
“China should not send these seven people back to North Korea where they face torture, sexual violence, forced labor, and other horrors,” Human Rights Watch Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson said in a statement.
“Beijing should immediately allow them to travel to a third country.”
The group also urged Beijing to end the repatriation of North Korean defectors, whom Chinese authorities consider “illegal economic migrants,” and to grant defectors apprehended within its borders asylum or allow them to travel to a third country.
“China should end its complicity with North Korean rights violations by ending the practice of forcing back fleeing North Koreans,” Robertson said.
“China should protect these seven North Koreans, both complying with its international obligations and sending Pyongyang a message that it won’t ignore North Korea’s abuses.”
According to Voice of America, one of the men is an uncle of the girl in custody. Citing Kim Seong-eun, a representative of Caleb Mission, Voice of America said the uncle attempted to inflict self-harm in an appeal for his niece’s life. Caleb Mission is a South Korea-based Christian missionary organization working with North Korean defectors.
Voice of America identified the girl by the surname Choi, aged 9, instead of 10. It also reported that one of the other men in custody is an 18-year-old surnamed Kim.
By Choi He-suk (email@example.com