China detained two South Korean Christian missionaries for allegedly attempting to smuggle North Korean defectors out of China.
One of the pastors was arrested with his wife as they tried to board a plane from China to South Korea. The other pastor and his wife were detained in their hotel room. The women have since been released but little has been heard of their husbands.
"The arrested pastors openly stated to Chinese authorities they were helping North Korean defectors out of fear they would be subject to inhumane treatment if repatriated to the North," South Korean pastor and activist Peter Jung told Yonhap news agency Wednesday.
Officials transferred the two pastors to the Chinese city of Benxi in Liaoning Province, where they are to await a final decision while in custody.
China has ramped up its efforst to expel South Koran missionaries from the Jilin provice. About 30 to 70 pastors have been kicked out of the area in the last few months, according to reports by Agence France-Presse (AFP).
"Chinese authorities raided the homes of the missionaries, citing a problem with their visas, and told them to leave," one human rights activist and pastor told AFP.
While it is not uncommon for Chinese authorities to target missionaries, the activist suggests the government is being more aggressive in recent days.
"It was very exceptional," one anonymous source told the Financial Times. "The missionaries were keeping a low profile. In the past, most missionaries were given a month to leave since their activities in China were not harming the country. This time, it was different."
The arrests come at a time when tensions are high between China and South Korea. Beijing has sanctioned South Korean companies over the U.S.-South Korean plan to deploy a missile defense system on the peninsula.
The sytem is meant to help protect the country from North Korea, but China argues it will only destablize the region.