A Japanese nongovernmental organization helping North Koreans who have fled to China demanded Thursday that Beijing release at least 120 refugees and their supporters allegedly detained since October.

Hiroshi Kato, of Life Funds for North Korean Refugees, said his and other NGOs have so far been able to identify 113 North Korean escapees and seven NGO activists and supporters who have been detained by China.

At least three others have been sent back to North Korea against their will, he told a news conference in Tokyo.

Kato said China should treat the issue of North Korean escapees as an international human rights concern if it wants to be a qualified member of the international community.

“We wonder whether China is suitable for hosting the 2008 Beijing Olympics,” Kato said. “We want it to restore human rights, to stop sending those who flee North Korea back to their country and to give them the status of refugee.”

Kato, who was detained by Chinese authorities for close to a week late last year, said he has sent letters to all national Olympic committees and sports federations around the world, saying China is not an appropriate country for hosting the Games.

Kang Hae Won, the wife of South Korean photojournalist Seok Jae Hyun, who has been detained in China since January along with dozens of North Koreans when plans to send the refugees to Japan and South Korea on two boats from China failed, asked for help to set her husband free.

“I strongly request your active assistance by showing humane support for those detained in China,” Kang said.

“I urge you to find the best measures at your disposal to protect the human rights of my innocent husband and the North Korean refugees who are suffering oppressive conditions, both physically and mentally, at this very moment.”

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