Chinese authorities sweep of Christian foreigners on North Korean border
In searches of an apartment and coffee shop belonging to Kevin and Julia Garratt, Chinese authorities took safes, documents, cash, computers, laptops, cell phones – even a fan and electric piano, according to the couple’s Vancouver-based son, Simeon Garratt.
On Monday, the Garratts were detained by China’s State Security Bureau and accused of stealing Chinese military and defense research secrets. The Christian couple operated a charity that brought humanitarian goods to North Korea. They also ran a coffee shop and weekly English classes in Dandong, China, a city that overlooks the northwestern corner of North Korea.
The seizures come as China has also frozen the bank accounts of a Korean-American man running a Christian non-profit organization in a different city on the border with North Korea. Peter Hahn operated a school in Tumen, China, and ran several businesses, including a bakery, in North Korea. He was placed under investigation by Chinese authorities three weeks ago, a source with direct knowledge of the case told Reuters, which reported the case Thursday.
Mr. Hahn has not been detained, and his school continues to operate, according to a woman who answered the telephone at the Tumen River Vocational School. But the Korean-American man is not permitted to leave the country, Reuters said.
Mr. Hahn’s school is attended by ethnic Korean children. He also operates several humanitarian projects and joint venture companies inside North Korea, including a local bus service in the Rajin-Songbon Special Economic Zone. Attached to the Tumen River Vocational School is a western restaurant called the Green Apple Café. That cafe remains operational, the woman at the school said.
A third cafe owned by Christian westerners in Yanji, another Chinese city near the North Korean border, has also recently closed. Gina’s Place Western Restaurant opened in 2008, the same year the Garratts opened their café. The owners of the two establishments knew each other, with their children attending summer camps together.
David Etter, who ran Gina’s before it closed, said he, too, delivered humanitarian aid, including food, to North Korean orphanages. But, he said, the cafe’s closure was financially-motivated, and did not come as a result of government pressure.
Still, the confluence of closures and government pressure on border establishments owned by foreign Christians adds to the questions about what lies behind the detentions.
[Globe and Mail]