After serving 14 months of a two-year sentence for his conviction on charges of "trafficking in persons" South Korean freelance photojournalist Seok Jae-hyun was released from Wei Fang prison in China.
Contributing to The New York Times and GEO, Seok was arrested Jan. 18, 2003 while he was covering North Korean refugees as they attempted to flee China on boats bound for South Korea and Japan. He was documenting the plight of North Korean refugees in China. This irritated the Chinese authorities which accused him of human smuggling, a charge he denied.
The Committee to Protect Journalists, the Overseas Press Club, Reporters Without Borders and especially Resolution 217, have been fighting for freeing Seok's since his arrest. They maintain Seok was just performing his duties as a journalist and did nothing wrong. Last July, supporters delivered a petition with 15,000 signatures to Chinese officials demanding Seok's release. But appeals were rejected.
The original verdict on May 22 included a fine of 5,000 Yuans, the confiscation of all his film and cameras, and a lifelong banishment from China at the end of his sentence.
"After almost 15 months in jail, Seok will be released mainly because of South Korean and international pressures. Finally, Beijing recognized that he was a media professional merely doing his duty. We hope that South Korean and foreign journalists will not stop covering the terrible situation of North Korean refugees in China, because of Seok's long jailing", said Vincent Brossel, head of the Asia-Pacific Desk of Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Fronties) in Paris.
“Seok was merely a passionate journalist working to tell an important story. My hope now for Jae is that he will be able to rest for a time, and that he'll be able to retain the heart and soul that helps make his photography so memorable. I hope that he and his wife, Kang, will be able to return to their everyday routine, and to forgive, commented Kaplan, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist who is a long-time supporters and friends who worked for the Seok’s release.