A Chinese dissident who made a daring escape from China on a jet ski has been convicted of illegal entry by a South Korean court on Thursday (23 Nov) but given a suspended jail sentence.
Kwon Pyong (权平), born in 1988, embarked on a more than 300km journey across the Yellow Sea in August this year, crossing from Shandong province to Incheon, South Korea, using binoculars and a compass for navigation and towing five barrels of fuel.
Kwon, a former aerospace engineering student at Iowa State University, was an activist known for his online criticism of Chinese President Xi Jinping.
In 2016, he posted a photo on social media wearing a T-shirt with the hashtag “Xitler” and other derogatory names for Xi, leading to his imprisonment in China for subversion.
According to Lee Dae-seon, a South Korea-based human rights activist with Dialogue China, Kwon fled China due to Beijing’s surveillance of his activities and anticipation of further political persecution.
On Thursday (23 Nov), the Incheon District Court convicted Kwon of illegal entry and sentenced him to one year in prison, suspended for two years, effectively ending his three-month-long detention.
The court stated, “The defendant tried to enter the country without a permit and is also accused of dispensing waste into the sea.”
Kwon’s father, Quan, described his son as an “honest and sincere” person who questioned the one-party rule of the Chinese Communist Party after studying in the US.
After his release in 2018, Kwon faced continuous police surveillance, an exit ban preventing him from leaving China, and difficulty rebuilding his life.
At a preliminary hearing, Kwon explained, “After being sentenced in China, I lived without freedom and was unable to leave the country normally.”
He managed to obtain a tourist visa for South Korea last year, leading to his unconventional journey on a jet ski.
South Korea has faced criticism for its restrictive refugee policies, having accepted fewer than 4,000 asylum seekers in the past 20 years, primarily from Yemen and Syria.
The unusual two-and-a-half-year suspended sentence for illegal entry has raised concerns, with experts suggesting it may be politically sensitive, potentially impacting South Korea’s relations with China.
Lee Dae-seon, a South Korean human rights activist and friend of Kwon, warned of potential “international condemnation” if South Korea turns away political refugees from China due to its relationship with the Chinese government.
The Chinese embassy in Seoul and South Korea’s justice department have not yet commented on the case, leaving Kwon’s future uncertain. The possibility of Kwon facing extradition to China remains uncertain, causing distress among his supporters.
A frequent visitor mentioned Kwon’s recent dream of being apprehended at sea by a Chinese boat, emphasizing the grave consequences he anticipates.
Supporters emphasize that Kwon risked his life to reach Korea, expressing a willingness for him to find refuge in a third country where he can live securely.
His father stressed the life-threatening consequences Kwon believes he would face if forced to return to China.
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