Chinese Activist Allowed To Apply For Political Asylum

Posted: 1:26 pm PDT March 23, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO -- A federal appeals court ruled in San Francisco Monday that a Chinese citizen who aided North Korean refugees in China is entitled to apply for asylum in the United States.

Xun Li, 38, claimed in his asylum request that he was brutally beaten by Chinese police in 2002 for aiding North Korean refugees who had fled to Jilin province in northeastern China near the North Korean border.

Li fled to Los Angeles in 2003, seeking asylum on the ground that he feared further persecution if he remained in China.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously overturned a decision in which an immigration judge denied the asylum request.

The panel said Li had showed he was persecuted on the basis of his political opinion and was entitled to pursue his asylum bid.

Li, a Chinese citizen of North Korean descent, said he was asked by his Christian pastor to provide shelter to two Christian North Koreans in 2002. He said Chinese police beat and kicked him, stripped him to his underwear and left him in below-freezing temperature, and sent him to a labor camp where other inmates beat him.

The appeals court said that according to U.S. State Department figures, up to 50,000 North Koreans have been driven by famine and repression to flee to China.

The appeals court noted that a U.S. law passed in 2004, the North Korean Human Rights Act, sets a policy of encouraging aid to North Korean refugees.

The court said it would be "an odd form of justice" if Li took actions consistent with U.S. policy "and yet, when persecuted on that basis, was declared unfit to seek asylum here in the United States."

The case was sent back to an immigration judge for further proceedings.

The panel said there is a presumption that Li "has a well-founded fear of future persecution" in China, but that U.S. Justice Department lawyers could try to argue that conditions in China have changed.
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