US lawmaker urges China not to persecute dissidents

SEOUL - The chairwoman of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee urged China Thursday to stop persecuting dissidents and religious believers, at a rally denouncing a crackdown on fugitives from North Korea.

“Mr. Hu (Jintao). End the persecution of all political dissidents and religious believers in China!", Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said after joining a protest by about 20 South Korean activists outside China’s embassy in Seoul.

Ros-Lehtinen and five other members of Congress arrived Tuesday in Seoul for a four-day visit that included a trip to the border with North Korea.

The event was also attended by Republican congressman Thaddeus McCotter who urged China to stop sending refugees back to “the barbaric regime in North Korea”.

Tens of thousands of North Koreans have fled poverty or repression in their homeland, almost all of them across the border to China. Many hide out and then travel on to Southeast Asian nations before flying to Seoul.

China arrests and repatriates the fugitives, considering them to be economic migrants rather than potential refugees.

“We stand here today to appeal directly to the Chinese people to hear the cries of the oppressed in their midst,” Ros-Lehtinen said.

She described Beijing as a “cold-hearted regime” and said president Hu should allow all North Korean refugees to have safe passage to South Korea and other democratic nations.

As an immigrant from Cuba, Ros-Lehtinen has initiated a series of bills aimed at putting North Korea back on a US list of state sponsors of terrorism.

She called for the early release of four South Korean activists arrested by China on March 29 on charges of endangering state security after interviewing North Korean refugees hiding there.

One of them is Kim Young-Hwan, former leader of an underground leftist party who in 1991 met the then-North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung in Pyongyang.

Kim, 48, later became a fierce critic of the regime and now works for the Seoul-based Network for North Korean Democracy and Human Rights.

Become a fan on Facebook