Three North Koreans -- Hong Jin-hee(38), Kim Hong-kyun(50) and Lee Soo-cheol(44) -- are now serving time in a Chinese prison for helping their fellow countrymen escape their poverty-stricken country.
Hong Jin-hee- Hong Jin-hee served in the North Korean military for 10 years. After his discharge, Hong got a job at a state-run company to earn foreign currencies, the most sought-after workplace in North Korea. At the time, North Korea was suffering from a famine, and as a growing number of people starved to death, Hong complained, "Why is it so hard to live these days?"
Someone reported Hong's "disloyal" remarks to the military intelligence service and Hong became a fugitive. Hong escaped alone across the North Korea-China border and made it to South Korea. He succeeded in bringing his family members over after they had been expelled to a rural area following Hong's defection.
Kim Hong-kyun - After graduating from an agricultural school, Kim Hong-kyun worked for the North Korean Workers' Party. He volunteered to work in Russia as a laborer. After concluding that the future was grim in his motherland, he defected to South Korea.
Lee Soo-cheol - He was a former guard with the security unit for North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. After being discharged from the military, Lee became disillusioned by the bleak reality of North Korea. He fled the country with his in-laws in 1997.
After these three settled in South Korea, they began helping other North Koreans escape through Vietnam and Mongolia. The three changed strategies and helped defectors find refuge in Japanese and Canadian embassies in Beijing on September 1, 2004.
In 2004, Chinese police raided an apartment in Tongzhou in Beijing to arrest Lee and Kim, along with 60 North Korean escapees. Hong fled the scene but was arrested in Shenyang. Chinese authorities imprisoned the three for two years before trying them.
At a belated trial in 2006, the Chinese government sentenced Hong to seven years in prison, Kim to five years and Lee to two years.