China on Tuesday denied claims by a prominent South Korean activist that he was tortured by Chinese security agents during his 114 days of detention in Dandong.
Pressed to respond to the claims by Kim Young-hwan, the Chinese Foreign Ministry faxed a terse statement saying, "China's supervisory authorities abided by laws in this investigation. China guaranteed the rights of the detainee."
In an earlier interview with the Chosun Ilbo, Kim gave a detailed account of the torture he suffered for helping North Korean defectors hiding in China. One person close to Kim said, "Kim has more to lose than to gain from going public with the torture. He has no reason to make things up or exaggerate what had happened to him."
But if Beijing admitted torturing a foreign national, "it would face a barrage of accusations from others who received similar treatment, leading to a mountain of legal problems," said one diplomatic source in Seoul. "There is a strong possibility that China will continue to deny torture allegations even when confronted with evidence."
The Chinese Foreign Ministry opted to send a fax rather than post its response on its website, which is the customary practice. This has led to speculation that China is worried about damaging its image by making the statement readily accessible to the international media.
Beijing's claim that it respected Kim's rights is clearly false. Kim was arrested on March 29, but China did not allow a South Korean embassy official to meet him until April 26. According to the Vienna Convention, a foreigner who is detained in another country has the right to immediately consult with a consular official from their own government.
Kim alleges that he was tortured with a cattle prod and severely beaten before he was allowed to meet a South Korean embassy official. Three other South Korean activists who were detained along with Kim waived their right to meet a South Korean embassy official after Chinese officials told them they could be released sooner if they relinquished it, Kim claimed. Kim also says he was never informed of the charges made against him.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry here said in a statement on Tuesday that consular officials plan to meet all 625 South Korean nationals in detention in China to see if they suffered any harsh treatment and "take necessary steps."