Friendship Bridge on the Yalu River connects China's Dandong and North Korea's Sinuiju. Photo: Reuters

New | Korean-American Christian aid worker detained in China

A Korean-American living on the border of China and North Korea has been detained by Chinese authorities, US officials have confirmed.

Peter Hahn. Photo: SCMP Pictures
Peter Hahn, a 73-year-old naturalised American citizen who left North Korea as a child, was taken in for questioning by local police on Tuesday and placed under detention after a six-hour interrogation, his lawyer told reporters earlier.

US embassy officials would not comment on the case specifically, citing privacy regulations, but said they were “aware of the detention of an American citizen” in the region.

Hahn has run a Christian aid agency in Tumen, Jilin province for the past two decades, which provides education and supplies to the poor in North Korea. Two other staff members, including a South Korean national, were detained earlier this month.

According to Hahn’s lawyer, Shanghai-based Zhang Peihong, the aid worker is accused of embezzlement and possession of fraudulent receipts.

Speaking to Fairfax Media, Zhang described the allegations as “groundless” and “impossible to stand up.”
This is not Hahn’s first run-in with Chinese authorities. reported in August that his charity was under investigation and his bank accounts had been frozen.
“When I visited him in September, plainclothes police were stationed outside his building, and it was sealed,” Zhang told the .
Hahn’s detention comes three months after Chinese authorities detained Canadians Kevin and Julie Garratt, who had lived in Dandong, Liaoning province – also on the North Korean border – since 1984.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said the couple was “under investigation for suspected theft of state secrets about China’s military and national defence research.”

Canadian consular officials have visited with the Garratts regularly since their detention, but authorities have repeatedly denied the family’s request for access to legal counsel, a source told .

“They remain detained and isolated from their family and legal counsel, and it conditions that are nothing short of demeaning and withdrawn from meaningful human contact,” the source said.

Chinese authorities have been targeting Christian groups that work on the North Korean border in recent months, insiders said.

Pastor Simon Suh told reporters that around 1,000 South Korean missionaries have been forced out of China, and many churches in the region had closed.

“Obviously, the screw is tightening all along the border,” a South Korean Christian activist told .

“There has been a concerted effort to break up the network of people who help North Koreans – on either side of the border.”

Relations between China and North Korea have been strained since Kim Jong-un succeeded his father as leader of the isolated country. Last year, Beijing supported sanctions against North Korea after it went ahead with a third nuclear test despite widespread international opposition.

However, most analysts agree that China prefers that the country remain stable and intact, fearing a flood of refugees over the border should the Kim regime fall.

North Korea recently released two Americans who had been sentenced to lengthy prison sentences, following a secret mission to Pyongyang by US intelligence chief James Clapper.

Experts said the decision to release Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller was likely an attempt to ease pressure from the international community over North Korea’s human rights record. This week, the UN General Assembly voted 111 to 19 to refer the situation in North Korea to the International Criminal Court.

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