The father of a Chinese activist being held in South Korea expressed concern that his son will not survive if he is deported back to China. The dissident had previously escaped from China on a jetski in a dangerous trip in August.
On Thursday, a South Korean court will determine the fate of Kwon Pyong, who is accused of breaking the immigration control law. Kwon, age 35, admitted guilt and asked for mercy as prosecutors recommended a harsh sentence of two and a half years, which is considered uncommonly severe by experts.
Kwon’s family made their first public statements, with his father, Quan He, telling the Guardian that his son is a young individual who craves independence. He expressed his wish for the Korean government to provide him with a means to live.
Kwon has been detained in Incheon detention center since he arrived on the Korean shoreline on the evening of August 16th. Being a dissident who had previously been imprisoned in China for speaking out against Xi Jinping, the leader of China, his situation may add tension to the already strained relationship between Beijing and Seoul.
Kwon rode on a jet ski for 16 hours, covering 186 miles (300km) through dangerous waves from his registered residence to his family’s ancestral home.
Kwon Pyong’s birth name was Quan Ping and he was born in 1988 to parents of Korean ethnicity in the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, located in the Jilin province of northeast China. As he grew older, he chose to go by the Korean version of his name, Kwon, instead of his father’s Chinese version, Quan.
Quan characterized his son as a truthful and genuine individual who began openly questioning the single-party governance of the Chinese Communist Party upon completing his studies in the United States.
Kwon completed his studies in aerospace engineering at Iowa State University in 2012. During his time there, he gained knowledge in flight mechanics and wind propulsion. On his personal blog, he expressed admiration for the democratic election of Barack Obama as president.
When he came back to China, Kwon’s father stated that he had many grievances about the Chinese government. In October 2016, he encountered trouble with the law for the first time after sharing a picture of himself on X (formerly known as Twitter), wearing a shirt with the words “#Xitler” and other disrespectful terms for Xi.
Kwon’s father stated that after being released in 2018, his son faced constant surveillance by the police, hindering his ability to find employment or start anew due to his charges of “inciting subversion” that led to his imprisonment.
The individual mentioned that his child was also subjected to a prohibition from leaving the country: “He was unable to travel abroad at all. He had previously resided overseas and desired to go back to a nation with greater liberties.”
During a preliminary hearing held last month, Kwon stated to the court that he did not enter Korea covertly with the intention of destroying buildings or breaking the law. He explained that after being convicted in China, he lived without liberty and was unable to depart the country through conventional means.
Kwon successfully acquired a tourist visa for South Korea last year. Due to the exit ban preventing him from departing China by air, he chose to travel by jetski.
The Kwon family first became aware of his plan when a relative received a call from the Incheon coastguard on the evening of August 16th.
Quan, who has visited his son in prison, shared that before [Kwon] embarked on his journey, he conducted thorough research on the internet. He found out that in Europe, people can legally enter a country through this method. However, when he looked into whether the same applies to Korea, he was unable to find much information. [Kwon] believed that being a democratic country, Korea would accept him. He also believed that if he were to get arrested, all he would have to say is, “I am a refugee.”
In the last two decades, South Korea has been a member of the UN’s refugee convention. However, it has only granted asylum to less than 4,000 individuals, primarily from Yemen and Syria. From 2017 to 2021, there have been 5,225 Chinese nationals who have applied for asylum in South Korea, but only three have been approved. According to Pillkyu Hwang, the director of the GongGam Human Rights Law Foundation in Seoul, South Korea is hesitant to accept Chinese asylum seekers.
The strict refugee policies in South Korea have put strain on the relationship between Seoul and Beijing. There are concerns that Kwon may be facing harsh treatment due to his status in China.
The punishment of two and a half years was deemed “unusually harsh” by Christoph Bluth, a professor of international relations at the University of Bradford and an authority on human rights in Korea. Normally, undocumented immigrants are given a fine and sent back to their home country.
Unfortunately, Bluth stated that this particular case is “politically sensitive” and therefore the government will carefully consider its potential impact on relations with China.
According to Daeseon Lee, a human rights advocate from South Korea and a friend of Kwon, South Korea may receive criticism from the international community if it refuses political refugees from China because of its ties with the Chinese government.
The Chinese embassy in Seoul was unavailable for response. The justice department of South Korea has been contacted for a statement.
It is uncertain whether Kwon will also face extradition to China in addition to serving a prison sentence in South Korea.
According to his supporters, this is his greatest fear. A family member who saw him regularly reported that Kwon had a dream where he was apprehended by a Chinese vessel while at sea and taken into custody.
According to them, he took a great risk to come to Korea. If Korea is not willing to accept him, it is acceptable for another country to provide him with a good life there.
His father stated, “Returning to China would result in his death.”
Further investigation conducted by Chi Hui Lin