The leader of a Japanese nongovernmental organization being held by Chinese authorities in Shanghai called on Japanese Consulate officials Tuesday to urge Beijing not to repatriate the North Koreans who were detained with him, Japanese officials said.

Fumiaki Yamada, 54, leader of the Tokyo-based Society to Help Returnees to North Korea and an assistant professor at Osaka University of Economics, was taken into custody and is being questioned for allegedly helping North Koreans enter China illegally. Consulate officials were allowed access to him Tuesday afternoon.

According to Foreign Ministry officials, Yamada told the consulate staff that the North Koreans who were detained with him were all relatives of North Koreans who left Japan under a 1959-1984 repatriation program, and that they could be executed if they are repatriated. He asked the officials to work with the South Korean government to call on China to consider the matter from a humanitarian viewpoint, they said.

In Shanghai the same day, the city’s media office spokesman confirmed that authorities detained one Japanese, three South Korean nationals and eight people of unknown citizenship last week when they attempted to enter a Japanese school in the city.

Jiao Yang told reporters that the 12 people were detained for organizing human smuggling activities and causing danger to the Japanese school and its students.

He said Yamada and the South Koreans — one resident of Japan who is a member of the Tokyo-based society and two photographers from South Korea — are under criminal detention, while the eight others are being held by police.

Yamada arrived in Shanghai on Aug. 5.

According to Foreign Ministry officials, Yamada was quoted as telling the consulate officials that he and the others were taken into custody near the school between 3:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. Thursday. The group had initially planned to have the North Koreans flee to the public relations and cultural center of the Japanese Consulate General, but decided that it was too well guarded when they checked it out the previous day and instead targeted the school, Yamada reportedly said.

He also told them that he was healthy and asked them to tell his family not to worry, the group said.

The group and the Foreign Ministry had earlier said that Yamada was expected to help nine North Koreans enter the Japanese Consulate General in Shanghai last Thursday, but the group lost contact with him Wednesday.

The three South Koreans and nine North Koreans were initially believed to have been collared with Yamada, but Yamada told the Japanese officials that there were only seven North Koreans with him. Chinese authorities put the figure at eight. The discrepancy indicates that there may be North Koreans who were not taken into custody.

The NGO’s members visited the Foreign Ministry on Tuesday, urging it to demand that China release the detainees and allow the North Korean escapees to depart for their desired destination. The North Koreans all want to go to South Korea, according to the group.

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