SEOUL - A South Korean rights activist accused Chinese security authorities Wednesday of physically abusing him while he was detained for nearly four months there for helping North Korean refugees.
Kim Young-Hwan said he was harshly treated after he refused to give full information about his activities in China and refused to admit he broke the law.
Kim and three other activists were arrested on March 29 and accused of endangering China's national security, a charge that can carry severe punishment. Beijing deported them last Friday.
He said he lodged a strong protest about "torture and harsh treatment" when Chinese security authorities handed him over to South Korean officials.
"I don't understand why I was physically abused even if there were no hostile activities against China," he told a press conference.
But Kim refused to give details of his treatment, saying China had asked him to stay silent in return for his freedom.
China is North Korea's sole major ally and repatriates North Korean refugees it catches, despite protests from rights groups. It is generally hostile to efforts by South Korean activists to help the fugitives.
Kim said he had been collecting information about the lives of North Korean refugees and the state of human rights in their homeland. He suggested China might have acted on tips from North Korean security agents.
"I believe North Korea has been implicated in this case," the activist said, adding one of his colleagues had been followed by North Korean agents.
His own detention, Kim said, demonstrated China's attempts to restrict organised activities by South Korean rights groups.
Ha Tae-Kyung, president of a group called Open Radio for North Korea, which broadcasts to North Koreans, said China apparently used Kim's case to send "a message of warning" about secret activities by the South's activists.
Kim is the former leader of an underground leftist party who met the then-North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung in Pyongyang in 1991. He later became a fierce critic of the regime and now works for a Seoul-based rights group.