A Korean American Christian aid worker was arrested by Chinese police near the country's border with North Korea in a sign of the country's tightening on religious freedoms.
Reuters reports that Peter Hahn is being charged with embezzlement and counterfeiting receipts, according to his lawyer, Zhang Peihong. The 74 year old Christian missionary has operated a vocational school for Chinese and Korean youth in the border town for the past several years which provided supplies to the poor in North Korea.
Zhang believes that Hahn was targeted due to his Christian faith and because he ran a non-governmental, faith-based organization.
"The charges levelled against him are just excuses," he told Reuters.
"I am not optimistic about the case's prospects now that he has been arrested..The charges clearly have no merit."
This is not the first time Hahn has experienced a run-in with Chinese authorities.
Reuters reports that the naturalized American citizen, who escaped North Korea several years ago, was detained by authorities back in November on similar charges.
At the time, China froze Hahn's bank accounts, making it difficult for his work to continue in his absence. His house has been put under surveillance, and his office was raided. His wife, Eunice, fled to Seoul after the first raid during which police confiscated Hahn's laptop and passport, among other documents, reported the Sydney Morning Herald.
While Hahn currently seems to be in good health, Zahn said he is unsure if the elderly missionary will stay healthy while in prison.
"His health was O.K., but if he's fit for detention, I'm not sure," he told the New York Times.
Eunice also said she fears for her husband's health as he developed diabetes and had two strokes this year. She added that she had asked a US diplomat to deliver a letter to her husband with Christian messages, but Hahn had not been allowed to read it.
"I just want to bring this to some sort of conclusion," she said.
According to The Guardian "China has long worked to curb the flow of North Koreans who flee persecution and poverty in their homeland and illegally enter China before travelling to other nations, usually ending up in South Korea."
In August, hundreds of Christian missionaries were forced out of China, most by having their visas refused. Later that month, China said it was investigating a Canadian Christian couple who ran a coffee shop in Dandong, further south near the North Korean border, on suspicion of stealing state secrets.
According to World Magazine, the recent crackdown on Christians in the region comes amidst apparent Chinese frustration with the North Korean government.
North Korea recently released the last three American detainees it held in the country, Jeffrey Fowle, Kenneth Bae, and Donald Miller. Fowle was detained for leaving a Bible in a nightclub, and Bae was an American missionary.