OSAKA — A Japanese NGO official who was detained in China last week returned to Japan on Wednesday after being expelled by Beijing.
Hiroshi Kato, 57, a leader of the Tokyo-based nongovernmental organization Life Funds for North Korean Refugees, arrived at Kansai International Airport at around 11:30 a.m.
Kato told reporters that he did not plan to meet North Korean people during his latest trip to China but was detained by Chinese authorities and accused of playing a key role in an incident March 14 in which North Korean refugees entered the Spanish diplomatic compound in Beijing. He said he denied the accusation.
Kato said he was supposed to meet Chinese supporters this time and arrange distribution of winter clothing to refugees.
The Chinese police took Kato into custody in the northeastern city of Dalian sometime between late Oct. 29 and early Oct. 30, according to Kato. They alleged he was involved in helping North Koreans get into foreign diplomatic compounds in China so they could go to third-party countries.
According to Kato, he was questioned in the morning and evening and was asked in detail about the incident. He said the investigators threatened to secretly hand him over to the North Korean authorities if he failed to tell them the truth, but was not otherwise mistreated.
He said the Chinese authorities did not use violence against him and showed concern over his health and meals.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said the government will ask China through the Japanese Embassy in Beijing to give a detailed explanation of Kato’s detention.
Fukuda said that China may have violated the Vienna Convention, which compels a government to contact promptly the country of origin of a foreign national it has taken into custody, by failing to notify Japan about Kato’s detention for six days.
Meanwhile, Foreign Ministry Press Secretary Hatsuhisa Takashima said that the ministry plans to interview Kato once he arrives back in Tokyo.
“We need to know whether Mr. Kato demanded (the Chinese authorities) to contact the Japanese government” during his confinement, Takashima said.
If Kato did indeed issue such a request, Japan may lodge a protest with the Chinese government, he added.
The NGO said Wednesday it has information that the North Korean government was offering a reward for Kato’s capture.
The prize for seizing Kato — the equivalent of 440,000 yen in cash and a Mercedes-Benz — was on offer to North Korean agents who have entered China, the group said.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry notified the Japanese Embassy in Beijing on Tuesday that Kato had been detained along with Masahiro Mizuta, 30, a student in China who served as Kato’s interpreter.
The Chinese government said it decided to expel Kato from China on Wednesday on the grounds that he had violated his tourist visa. Mizuta, however, a student at Yanbian University in Jilin Province, will be allowed to continue his studies because he was only involved with interpreting.
Kato and Mizuta were reported missing on Oct. 30 after checking out of a hotel in Dalian.
Kato has been engaged in helping North Korean defectors in China since he helped found the NGO in 1997. It is likely that both the Chinese and North Korean governments had him under surveillance, the NGO said.
China has blamed overseas NGOs for encouraging a rash of daring attempts by North Koreans to cross the border secretly into China and enter third countries’ diplomatic compounds in order to claim political asylum.
The Chinese authorities have specifically accused Kato of helping a group of North Koreans enter the Spanish Embassy in Beijing in March.
Life Funds for North Korean Refugees has previously denied helping North Korean refugees enter foreign diplomatic compounds.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.