A repatriated North Korean escapee who was recently released from a prison camp for health reasons asked police to take her back when she was unable to support herself on the outside, sources in the country told RFA. The woman, who had been sold in China by human traffickers seven years ago, was caught by Chinese police and repatriated sometime last year. While in detention, she was transported across the country on the back of a truck in the dead of winter and lost her toes to frostbite. The prison camp released her in June after doctors gave up on finding a way to treat her. “When she was completely blocked out from making a living, she went to the law enforcement agency and asked to return to prison,” a resident of North Hamgyong province, bordering China and Russia in the country’s northeast, told RFA Sept. 19. The woman was back in prison only a month after she was released. “The woman is known to have suffered severe violence at the hand of her Chinese husband in Shandong province. She could not withstand the violence and tried to flee last fall, but she was arrested by Chinese police and sent back to North Korea because her husband reported her,” said the source, who requested anonymity for security reasons. According to the source, the woman was first held in a detention center across the border from the Chinese city of Dandong in northwestern North Korea. “She was in a detention center in Sinuiju until winter because the police officer in charge of her registered residence area did not come to take her away. The transport was delayed because electric trains do not run often, and internal combustion trains are too expensive. So, they transported her by a servi-cha,” the source said, referring to privately-owned and operated transport trucks. “She was only wearing a single layer of clothes, so she suffered severe frostbite riding in the cargo compartment of the truck in the freezing weather. When she finally arrived in Puryong county, North Hamgyong province, she was sentenced to five years in prison for illegal border crossing and imprisoned at the No. 9 correctional labor camp,” said the source. The source said she lost all ten of her toes to frostbite. “The prison camp released her, saying there was no way to treat her, but after returning to her town, she had no way to make a living and no home. She could have died of starvation, and had no way to get medical treatment,” said the source. “The poor woman was first living at a temporary shelter that the local government provided for her and she ate corn donated by local residents for her meals. But when she ran out of corn, she went to look for jobs, but it is of course difficult to work if you can’t even walk well,” the source said. The source said it was then that she went to the public security department, asking to be sent back to prison. Another resident of North Hamgyong, who requested anonymity to speak freely, told RFA that tales of the woman had been circulating among the public. “The residents are shocked to hear the story of an illegal border crosser who voluntarily wanted to return to prison. Once you’re sent there, you may come out dead. How tough is her life that she decided to go back to prison on her own volition?” the second source said. The second source confirmed that the repatriated escapee lost her toes to frostbite and was released by the prison for health reasons. “Normally the police collect the cost of transporting a prisoner from relatives, but the transport was delayed until the cold winter because she had no family to pay for her transportation.” Trafficking statistics North Korean women are “uniquely vulnerable” to sex trafficking in China, according to a 2019 report published by the London-based Korea Future Initiative. The report said exploitation of North Korean women generates profits of at least $105 million each year. “Victims are prostituted for as little as 30 Chinese Yuan (U.S. $4), sold as wives for just 1000 Chinese Yuan ($146), and trafficked into cybersex dens for exploitation by a global online audience,” the report said. Trafficking of North Korean women in China was at its peak in the late 1990s, when hundreds of thousands of desperate people fled the country during the 1994-1998 famine that killed millions. Estimates place the number of North Koreans illegally in China at about 150,000 in 1999 according to a 2019 report published by the Washington-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK). RFA reported in August 2019 that China had begun a crackdown on North Korean refugees, with Chinese authorities repatriating 60 recently arrested refugees held in detention centers in northeastern Liaoning province. The report said the spike in arrests could have stemmed from increasing North Korea-China cooperation following more than a year of warming relations between Beijing and Pyongyang. Reported by Jieun Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.
Twelve Hong Kong activists detained by the mainland Chinese authorities as they tried to escape to the democratic island of Taiwan by speedboat have been allocated officially approved lawyers, sparking concerns that they may have accepted the arrangement under duress.Hong Kong’s secretary for security John Lee told local media over the weekend that lawyers had been “selected” for them from a list provided by authorities in the southern port city of Shenzhen, just across the border in mainland China.The 12 detainees, aged 16 to 33, are being held on suspicion of "illegal immigration" at the Yantian Detention Center. They were intercepted by the China Coast Guard after they tried to escape by speedboat to the democratic island of Taiwan last month.All 12 also face criminal charges in Hong Kong, with 10 of them wanted for manufacturing or possessing explosives, arson, rioting, assaulting police officers, or possession of offensive weapons, the city’s government has said.Lee told local media that the Hong Kong authorities aren’t accorded visitation rights, as would normally be granted to overseas diplomats.Pro-democracy lawmaker Eddie Chu said it was worrying that the detainees have effectively been allocated lawyers approved by the ruling Chinese Communist Party.Sichuan-based rights lawyer Lu Siwei, who has repeatedly been refused permission to visit one of the detainees after being hired by their family to represent them, said he wasn’t alone.He said none of the lawyers hired by the Hong Kong detainees’ families had managed to meet with their clients, as of Monday.“I haven’t had a meeting,” Lu said. “None of us has. We really don’t know what’s happening now but we are going to keep trying.”“We won’t keep going to the detention center because they won’t let us in, so there’s not much point, but we will lodge a formal complaint in an attempt to get the police and prosecutor’s office to give us an explanation,” he said.Government-approved lawyersA second lawyer for one of the 12, who asked to remain anonymous, said he had been told that lawyers had been appointed on behalf of the detainees when he showed up at the Yantian Detention Center in a bid to meet with his client.“The way things are going, it seems as if they are [appointing government-approved lawyers],” the lawyer said. “They are doing this behind closed doors, and they don’t offer any explanations or information.”Beijing-based rights activist Hu Jia said the 12 Hongkongers are being subjected to the full treatment usually meted out to political cases in mainland China.“We have also experienced this and we all know what it’s like,” Hu said. “This sort of thing can destroy your mental and physical health.”He said the 12 detainees are likely to be made an example of by the Chinese authorities, as they have come to symbolize the entire protest movement that began last year as widespread public opposition to plans to allow extraditions to mainland China.“These detentions are being made to show tens of thousands of young people in Hong Kong [the consequences of activism],” Hu said. “They are creating an atmosphere of terror that will make everyone think twice.”Pressure not to defendHu said the detainees are likely under huge psychological pressure from police not to try to defend themselves in court.“The Chinese police are sure to be telling them that if they make trouble [by hiring a good lawyer], there won’t be a good outcome,” Hu said. “They will have to pay a higher price, or their relatives be punished, if they do.”He said there is some hope that international diplomatic pressure could affect the outcome for the Yantian detainees.In Hong Kong, the detainees’ families have hit out at the Hong Kong authorities for failing to support them or to negotiate with the Chinese police for their return.Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam and her senior officials have said they won’t interfere with law enforcement in another jurisdiction.The families have also raised concerns over the lack of assistance for those who need medical treatment, as well as the lack of visits by lawyers or relatives.Incommunicado detention is a known risk factor for torture and other forms of mistreatment in detention, and has been linked to several high-profile torture cases in mainland China in recent years.Reported by Lau Siu-fung for RFA’s Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.
Authorities in North Korea have arrested a phone broker on charges of espionage, saying the man shared information about domestic conditions in the reclusive country while helping a North Korean refugee in South Korea communicate with family members in the North, sources told RFA. The accused, a resident of North Hamgyong province on the Chinese border, was caught after printing photos taken by the refugee in South Korea at a local photo studio. Phone brokers in North Korea’s border region earn money using mobile phones connected with the Chinese cellular network to facilitate communications and remittances between people who have escaped North Korea and their relatives still living there. They shuttle the remittances sent to China into to North Korea, charging high fees to get the money to intended recipients. Communication with the outside world is illegal in North Korea, but has been tolerated by authorities, who often demand bribes from brokers. “In mid-August, a resident of Onsong county, North Hamgyong province was arrested on suspicion of espionage when a secret service agent of the local security department learned he had printed photos from South Korea at a local photo studio,” a source at a law enforcement agency in North Hamgyong told RFA’s Korean Service Thursday. The source, who requested anonymity for security reasons, declined to elaborate on the location of the photo studio to protect the identity of the arrested individual. “He confessed while he was being questioned by the provincial security department. He said he had made a living by bringing residents from inland areas of the country to the border with China over a period of several years, so they could make phone and video calls to members of their families who had escaped to South Korea or China,” the source said. Communications trade Brokers living near the Sino-Korean border usually conduct business using illegal mobile phones that can connect to the Chinese network across the border. According to the source, authorities found two Chinese phones in the man’s house. “The provincial security department secured all the text messages he had sent and received over WeChat,” said the source. “They found that he had been sending out information about the current situation in North Korea very frequently. So, the provincial security authorities are now saying that the money transfer was merely a cover and that he actually was a spy that provided information to South Korea,” the source said. “It’s extremely likely that he will be executed by firing squad or sent to a political prison camp,” the source said. Another source, a resident of the province, confirmed the arrest to RFA, saying provincial security agents led away the espionage suspect in handcuffs and put him into a car. “He had received photos of a North Korean refugee living in South Korea on his Chinese mobile phone and had printed them at a local photo studio. A local resident working as a security agent reported it, so that’s why they arrested him,” said the source, who requested anonymity to speak freely. “But since he exchanged messages about the domestic situation on his Chinese mobile phone, they now have evidence of espionage activities,” said the source. Everyone a spy The second source questioned how someone that seemed so ordinary could possibly know any national secrets, but the charges are a life or death risk that all phone brokers take. “Many of the residents living in the border areas of North Korea will have family members or relatives in China or South Korea. These days, if you see the security authorities' behavior toward the residents of the border area, it’s like they are just accusing everyone of espionage.” The source said that espionage charges are on the rise because authorities want to scare the public to discourage them from complaining about harsh living situations brought on by the double squeeze of U.N. and U.S. sanctions over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs and the closure of the border and shutdown of all trade with China. A North Korean refugee who settled in South Korea in 2019 told RFA Thursday that authorities often hit residents of the border region with espionage charges. “Many people in North Korea’s border areas make a living by contacting China or South Korea. They are accused of being spies and are subjected to misfortune,” the refugee said. “North Koreans don’t want anything as grand as what people living in the free world enjoy every day. We cannot help but ask the North Korean regime if it has the right to oppress its people, who only long to satisfy their simple desire to eat three meals a day and sleep in a warm bed.” While there is no way to know exactly how many illegal phone users there are in North Korea, the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights, which interviewed 414 North Koreans in the South reported that 47 percent of them were in constant contact with their families in the North in 2018. Of those, about 93 percent said they called their families on the phone. In the same survey 62 percent said they had sent money to North Korea. Based on their answers, the database center estimated that refugees in the South who send money to North Korea do it about twice per year, sending around 2.7 million South Korean won (U.S. $2,260) each time. Each time they had to pay an average broker fee of almost 30 percent. According to South Korea’s Ministry of Unification, 32,000 North Koreans have settled in South Korea since 1998, including 1,047 last year. Reported by Sewon Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.
A global human rights group has claimed that more than 100 Rohingya refugees were victims of extrajudicial killings in Bangladesh since 2017, but a senior government official told BenarNews that all Rohingya slain in “crossfire” incidents were drug traffickers. A statement issued Tuesday by Amnesty International gave the tally of slain Rohingya refugees, citing information from a local human rights group. Neither organization responded to BenarNews requests for more information about these claims. However, a police superintendent in Cox’s Bazar gave BenarNews an even higher figure of 104 Rohingya killed by security forces since May 4, 2018. The southeastern district is where about a million Rohingya Muslims are sheltering in refugee camps after more than 740,000 people fled violence against members of the stateless minority group in neighboring Myanmar three years ago. “More than 100 Rohingya refugees were victims of alleged extrajudicial executions between August 2017 and July 2020, according to Bangladeshi human rights organization Odhikar,” the London-based rights watchdog said in a statement on Tuesday, in which it called for a full and thorough investigation of the allegations. “Yet none of these cases have been investigated and no suspected perpetrators have been brought to justice.” Bangladesh officials continue to state that extra-judicial killings do not take place in their country while asserting that suspected criminals are shot dead by security forces during exchanges of gunfire, or “crossfire.” “None of the Rohingya killed in the crossfire with the border guards and law enforcement agencies were the victims of extrajudicial killings. They were armed narcotics smugglers coming from the Myanmar side of the border,” Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service, when asked about Amnesty International’s allegations. “The duty of our border guards is to foil infiltration into Bangladesh from the other side of the border. Our border guards come under fire from the ‘yaba’ [narcotic] pill smugglers when they attempt to stop intrusions, and when the guards retaliate with fire some smugglers are killed,” he said. Similar incidents take place when law enforcement officials conduct anti-narcotics drives, Khan said. “Again, our law enforcers came under fire from the Rohingya drug peddlers and smugglers. During the exchange of fire, drug peddlers are killed. Our forces have the right to fire in self-defense,” the home minister said, adding, “We investigate all incidents of crossfire. Departmental action follows if law enforcers are found to have violated the law.” Higher Death Tally Meanwhile, police in Cox’s Bazar said 104 Rohingya were killed in alleged crossfire incidents between March 4, 2018 and July 31, 2020. By comparison, Amnesty International’s statement had a similar tally but over a longer period. Here, too, the Rohingya deaths were due to gunfights or conflicts within the refugee community, said Iqbal Hossain, an additional superintendent of police in Cox’s Bazar district. “Those who were killed in gunfights had been involved robbery, criminal activities, and smuggling of ‘yaba’ pills. There were several cases of robbery, criminal activities, and drug smuggling against all of the slain Rohingya,” Hossain told BenarNews. “Many Rohingya also died in the internecine conflicts among different Rohingya criminal groups.” Hossain also referred to a 2019 incident, which led to the deaths of five Rohingya refugees. Violence broke out in Cox’s Bazar on Aug. 22, 2019, when gunmen, suspected to be Rohingya, gunned down a youth wing official of Bangladesh’s ruling Awami League party. The killing of Omar Faruk triggered protests the next day, with participants blocking highways and vandalizing shops and houses inside a Rohingya camp, local media reported at the time. In follow-up operations, five refugees were killed, at least two of them by police who described them as suspects in Faruk’s killing. “The Rohingya robbers whisked away Jubu League leader Omar Faruk and killed him,” Hossain said. ‘They killed my son’ Some relatives of Rohingya refugees who were allegedly killed by Bangladeshi authorities claimed that their loved ones were not involved in criminal activities. Md. Shafi, a Rohingya refugee living at the Leda camp in Teknaf, a sub-district of Cox’s Bazar, said police killed his 28-year-old son, Rashid Ullah, in July. “The police took away my innocent son from a shop. Then they killed my son saying he’s an armed thief,” Shafi told BenarNews. “The police put me in jail too for 40 days.” Amnesty International said in its Tuesday statement that it had spoken to family members of five Rohingya refugees who were victims of alleged extrajudicial executions in Cox’s Bazar. “Every incident has a strikingly similar narrative where the victims were killed during a ‘gunfight’ with members of law enforcement agencies who claimed that they only opened fire in retaliation,” Amnesty said. “Three of the five Rohingya men were reportedly picked up from their homes by the police and were then found dead, said their family members.” Nur Khan, a former executive director of rights group Ain-O-Shalish Kendra, a local human rights group, said all the incidents of crossfire were “actually extrajudicial killings.” “Maybe some Rohingya were involved in drug peddling and smuggling. But this does not justify their extrajudicial killings. They can be tried. We have a judicial system in place.” Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.
The family of a Hong Kong teenager detained in mainland China after he tried to flee to the democratic island of Taiwan says he hasn't been allowed to see a lawyer, and that they have had scant assistance from the Hong Kong authorities.Cheng Tsz-Ho, 18, is among 12 Hongkongers aged 16 to 33 being held on suspicion of "illegal immigration" at the Yantian Detention Center in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, which borders Hong Kong.They were intercepted by the China Coast Guard after they tried to escape by speedboat to the democratic island of Taiwan last month.All 12 are suspected of committing crimes in Hong Kong, according to the city's security bureau, with 10 of them wanted for manufacturing or possessing explosives, arson, rioting, assaulting police officers, or possession of offensive weapons.Cheng didn't tell his family where he was going when he joined the speedboat in a bid to smuggle himself illegally into Taiwan, and the first his family knew of his plight was from a police officer who informed them of his detention, passing on a photocopied certificate of detention "on suspicion of illegally crossing the border" on Aug. 23."I don't think the Hong Kong government has offered any assistance at all," Cheng's sister told RFA in a recent interview. "My father did receive several phone calls from the government, asking if they could send someone to visit my brother.""My father asked what they could do to help, but they couldn't answer that, and they had a pretty casual attitude," she said, adding that the lawyer they tried to hire to represent her brother has been dismissed by the mainland authorities.Detention center staff in Yantian have claimed that they are unable to verify the credentials of several lawyers hired by families in Hong Kong, and have denied them access to their clients.At least four lawyers have been forced to relinquish their instructions in this way, RFA has learned, and not one has been allowed to meet with a client."Political tensions are rising in mainland China and it's getting harder and harder to find a lawyer," Cheng's sister said. "I got a lawyer, but then he quit under political pressure and referred me to a different lawyer."Cheng said she is pursuing every avenue to keep the lawyer she hired, but expects her application to be rejected on the grounds that her brother has already been allocated a lawyer by the authorities.Cheng's family was among several who attended a news conference to hit out at the authorities for their lack of support for the 12 detainees.Chief executive Carrie Lam and her officials have said it is entirely appropriate to allow the mainland authorities to process their cases "according to law," given that many had "absconded" after facing criminal charges linked to the pro-democracy and anti-extradition protests.Concerns over lack of helpBut while the families have called for the return of the detainees, they have also raised concerns over the lack of assistance for those who need medical treatment, as well as the lack of visits by lawyers or relatives.Incommunicado detention is a known risk factor for torture and other forms of mistreatment in detention, and has been linked to several high-profile torture cases in mainland China in recent years."It is normal for the families [of detainees] to appoint the lawyers and it is also our right," Cheng's sister said. "I don't think this counts as interfering with mainland Chinese law enforcement; that is irrelevant.""What worries me the most is that he will be charged with separatist activity [under the new National Security Law for Hong Kong] and won't be allowed to come back here for as long as he lives," she said.Cheng said the normally happy family is distraught and constantly on edge, waiting for news."I fear that there will never come another day when the whole family gathers to eat our meals together," she said."Sometimes I burst out crying when I see my parents," she said. "I don't even know if my brother has enough to eat.""My mom cries a lot and has difficulty sleeping. I often dream about my brother, that he has gotten thin and has been hurt," she said. "He is 18 years old. He usually spends all of his time studying or having fun.""I don't know how he will cope in a detention center," she said. "I am giving more media interviews so more people will know about these cases, and to stop my brother getting 'disappeared'.""Right now, we can only take one day at a time," she said. "If the government won't help us, we will have to support ourselves."Thousands arrested, hundreds prosecutedAuthorities in Hong Kong are bringing hundreds of protest-related prosecutions dating from the anti-extradition and pro-democracy protests that began in June 2019 on a range of charges including unlawful assembly, assault, arson, and rioting.While thousands of people have been arrested since the movement began, a U.S. State Department report warned in March that the prosecutions of activists had infringed on the rights of Hongkongers to peaceful assembly and protest.A Hong Kong court on Thursday convicted a man of "rioting" and common assault in connection with the siege by unarmed protesters of the Hong Kong police headquarters in June 2019.Prosecutions under a draconian national security law imposed on Hong Kong by the ruling Chinese Communist Party on July 1 are also gathering pace.U.S.-based pro-democracy group Freedom House on Thursday said the Hong Kong protest movement was among the recipients of its 2020 Freedom Award."As the Chinese government has heightened repression at home and expanded efforts to export its authoritarianism abroad, Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement — a leaderless, people-led effort —has inspired the world," the group said in a statement announcing the awards."Beijing’s sudden imposition of a repressive new national security law has made these efforts tremendously dangerous," it said. "Yet the people of Hong Kong remain committed to defending their rights for future generations in new and creative ways."Reported by Gigi Lee for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.
Bangladesh’s Foreign Ministry has summoned Myanmar’s ambassador to protest unusual troop movements near its southeastern borders, where refugee camps house close to 1 million Rohingya refugees who fled Myanmar, authorities said Monday. Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) and foreign ministry officials said authorities in the region had noted unusual numbers of Myanmar security forces since early Friday, at several points near the border, including in civilian ships. “Large ships can be seen in Myanmar waters. Law enforcers are on high alert in this island,” Nur Ahmed, chairman of St. Martin’s Union Council, told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service, by telephone. St. Martin’s island in the Bay of Bengal is a top tourist attraction in the Cox’s Bazar region. The unusual troop movements without any prior notice have caused Bangladesh border guards to go on alert. “We have confirmed that there was suspicious movement and presence of Myanmar troops in their area,” Lt Col. Ali Haider Azad Ahmed, commander of the BGB unit in Cox’s Bazar, told BenarNews. “So we have intensified all activities including patrolling. Everyone has been kept on alert at the border. If anything happens, including new infiltrations, it will be prevented,” he said. A Bangladesh foreign ministry official, meanwhile, reached out to his Myanmar counterpart. “We called in the Myanmar envoy and expressed our concerns. He was asked to convey our message to the appropriate authorities,” Md Delwar Hossain, director-general of the Myanmar cell at Bangladesh’s foreign ministry, told BenarNews. Increased traffic at the border A Rohingya camp leader in Teknaf district – the southernmost tip of Bangladesh, which lies across the Naf River from Myanmar’s Rakhine state – told BenarNews that camp residents noticed Myanmar troops setting up seven or eight tents. “There has been an increase in traffic at the border for two days. It could not be confirmed whether they were police or army members, but the residents of the Rohingya camp are afraid of this,” Mohammad Nur, a camp leader, told BenarNews, In southeastern Bangladesh, refugee camps house about 1 million Rohingya, including more than 740,000 who fled from Myanmar’s Rakhine state amid a brutal military crackdown that began on Aug. 25, 2017, in the wake of attacks by Rohingya insurgents on police outposts that killed 9. Shahriar Alam, Bangladesh’s state minister for foreign affairs, told the BBC on Monday that Myanmar officials had not informed their Bangladesh counterparts about the troop mobilizations, despite an agreement to do so. “[T]he Myanmar army has increased the number of troops in several places near the border with Bangladesh using civilian boats,” he told the British media. “Whatever happens in these cases, there is a rule for neighboring states to notify the other side if they take action against any internal insurgency. “But they did it without informing us. That’s why we informed the embassy here.” A professor at Jahangirnagar University in Dhaka said the troop movements could be part of an effort to keep Rohingya out of Myanmar. “Myanmar has been trying to totally eradicate the Rohingya from Rakhine state from the beginning. The new army deployment may be a part of that effort,” Dr. Tareque Shamsur Rehman told BenarNews. “They are adamant they will not take back the Rohingya despite directives of the International Court of Justice and the pressure from the United Nations. They will continue to do so, as long as the Western world does not impose economic sanctions on Myanmar,” he said. Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.
Twelve activists detained in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen after they tried to flee Hong Kong in a speedboat have been accused of "separatism" by a foreign ministry spokeswoman in Beijing."The 12 people were arrested for illegally crossing the border," Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said via Twitter."They are not democratic activists, but elements attempting to separate #HongKong from China," Hua wrote in response to a tweet from U.S. State Department spokesman Morgan Ortagus, who condemned the detention of the 12 Hongkongers."Legitimate governments do not need to wall their countries in and prevent their citizens from leaving," Ortagus had tweeted."The arrest of 12 Hong Kong democracy activists is another sad example of the deterioration of human rights in Hong Kong," he wrote on Saturday.The family members of six of the detainees held a press conference on Saturday, calling on the Hong Kong authorities to bring them back to the city as soon as possible.Concerns are growing over the lack of access to lawyers hired by their families and to adequate medical care in Shenzhen's Yantian Detention Center.The 12 Hongkongers are aged 16 to 33, and were held on suspicion of "illegal immigration" after they tried to escape by speedboat to the democratic island of Taiwan last month.Hong Kong activist Andy Li – who was arrested and released on bail earlier this month by Hong Kong for alleged national security law violations – was among them, sources told RFA at the time.The Shenzhen police department confirmed for the first time on Sunday that 12 Hong Kong citizens were under criminal detention on suspicion of illegally crossing the border, and that investigations are ongoing."Police will protect the legitimate rights and interests of criminal suspects in accordance with law," the department said via its official social media account on Weibo.Lawyer turned awayBut defense lawyer Lu Siwei, who was recently hired by the family of one of the detainees, told RFA he had been turned away from the detention center on several occasions after he went to request a meeting with his client.The mother of one detainee, Tang Kai-yin, said she didn't know whether he was alive or dead.Tang's brother said he was concerned about his brother's health in detention.Hong Kong's Immigration Department has since said the 12 are in good health, and they have got lawyers to represent them.But relatives of the detainees told reporters at the weekend that they had been given no information on the charges against their loved ones, and said assistance offered by the Hong Kong authorities was inadequate.Hong Kong Secretary for Security John Lee declined to intervene on behalf of the 12 detained in Shenzhen, saying only that the Hong Kong authorities will keep track of their case."People should respect the local law wherever they are and take responsibility for their own actions, including criminal liability," Lee said."Governments respect different jurisdictions operating according to their own laws," he said.Bargaining chipsCouncil Front lawmaker Chu Hoi-dick said the 12 could now be used as bargaining chips by the ruling Chinese Communist Party."The moment family-appointed lawyers were denied to see some of the detainees, it could be expected that the Chinese Communist Party has designated the 12 people as highly sensitive cases," government broadcaster RTHK quoted Chu as saying in a statement.Meanwhile, Taiwan's Central News Agency (CNA) quoted a source on Sunday as confirming reports that five Hongkongers who attempted to reach the island by boat have been detained there.Taiwan journalist Edd Jhong, who says he helped them get to Taiwan, has claimed that the former anti-government protesters had not been allowed to contact their families or lawyers.CNA's source on Sunday confirmed the detentions, denied they were under "house arrest," but gave no timeline for their release.It said five had been granted access to lawyers, and were not being held incommunicado.Hong Kong security chief John Lee said the city's government had received no information on the five.'Taiwan must be cautious'Taiwan Protestant pastor Hwang Chun-sheng, who has helped Hongkongers fleeing to Taiwan following a city-wide crackdown on the protest movement that has intensified under a draconian national security law since July 1, said Taiwan has helped many people from Hong Kong."But Taiwan has to be very cautious, because China and the U.S. are in a state of quasi-war," Hwang told RFA. "People who know about these things can't talk too much about them."He said all five Hongkongers had been in touch with their families via officials, to let them know they are safe.Yang Sen-hong, president of the Taiwan Association for China Human Rights, said it is unclear who the five Hongkongers are.He called on the Taiwanese government to pass a refugee law setting out how asylum-seekers are to be treated."Only then will we have a legal framework to avoid the issue of illegal immigration," Yang said. "Otherwise, people who enter Taiwan will be dealt with under current law [as illegal immigrants]."Reported by Hwang Chun-mei for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.
Indonesia should ensure that nearly 300 Rohingya migrants who landed in Aceh province this week are given adequate health care and aid, Amnesty International said Friday, as officials announced three of the new arrivals had died after suffering lung infections. The officials confirmed two women and a man had died in the town of Lhokseumawe since local fishermen helped them come ashore on Monday. “The government must move more quickly to ensure that the refugees’ health care needs are met,” Usman Hamid, Amnesty International director in Indonesia, told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service. Usman said his group sent a letter to President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo urging him to provide more support to the local government to make sure that the minority Muslim refugees’ basic needs are met in line with international human rights standards. Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi this week said the government would ensure that the Rohingya arrivals got the help they need including health care while their status as refugees was being verified by the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR. Achsanul Habib, director of human rights and humanitarian affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that the local government was caring for the Rohingya. “As far as I know, everything is being handled by the task force in Lhokseumawe,” Achsanul told BenarNews. Early Friday, Senuwara Begum, 19, died while being treated for a lung infection at the state-run hospital in the town of Lhokseumawe, said Marzuki, spokesman for a local task force tasked with aiding the refugees. Two other Rohingya – aged 22 and 21 – died on Tuesday and Thursday after suffering from similar complaints, officials said. Rapid COVID-19 tests for the 181 women, 102 men, and 14 children who arrived on Monday were all negative, Marzuki said, adding that a swab sample had been taken from the woman who died Friday in order to perform a more accurate test. The Rohingya group was the largest to arrive in Indonesia since 2015, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Call for leadership Meanwhile, the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC), a Jakarta-based think tank, issued a report on the Rohingya in Aceh calling on Jokowi to show leadership by revising a presidential decree on refugees. The report filed on Wednesday called on the administration to take some of the financial burden off local governments and provide more active support. “The Acehnese have been wonderfully supportive of the refugees, but this is a problem that can’t be solved by a sympathetic local community," IPAC researcher Deka Anwar said in a news release issued with the report. “We need a collective regional response, with less focus on repatriation when repatriation is not a viable alternative, more willingness to work out regional resettlement options and more prosecutions of anyone found to be profiting from smuggling networks,” he said. Following their rescue, some of the Rohingya told U.N. officials they agreed to pay thousands of dollars to smugglers to reach Malaysia and ended up spending more than half a year at sea, adding at least 30 people had died. The refugees were being sheltered in the same building that housed the 99 Rohingya who were rescued from another boat in June. Officials have said they believe the two groups were linked. “We are extremely concerned about the health of the refugees who arrived earlier this week in poor condition,” Mitra Suryono, UNHCR spokeswoman in Indonesia, told BenarNews. “The authorities are running additional health screenings in the field and UNHCR is trying to make sure that refugees can get what they need, including nutrition,” she said. ASEAN request During an Association of Southeast Asian Nations ministerial meeting on Wednesday, Retno urged member countries to address the plight of the Rohingya. “We know that we need to work together and this cooperation, among others, is to address transnational crimes including the issue of people smuggling and trafficking in persons,” Retno said. Malaysian Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said a prolonged conflict in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, home to the Rohingya, “jeopardizes the security and the stability of the ASEAN region.” Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya live in Rakhine under the “threat of genocide” according to a United Nations-mandated Fact-Finding Mission report from September 2019. Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.