Free the North Koreans
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6/13/17 Washington Post: “Otto Warmbier has been freed, but 3 other Americans remain prisoners in North Korea”
By Amanda Erickson
At least three other Americans remain in North Korean custody. Here’s a look at their stories.
Kim Hak-song had worked for the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology and was detained in May on suspicion of “hostile acts” against North Korea. According to the university’s chancellor, he had been doing agricultural development work with the school’s agricultural farm.
Kim was born in China and studied in California. “He was a very diligent, hard-working man determined to help people in North Korea,” David Kim, a classmate, told CNN. “He went to Pyongyang to devote himself to the development of North Korea’s agricultural technology so that the North can be self-sufficient with food.”
Kim Sang-duk (who goes by his American name, Tony Kim) was detained in April as he waiting to fly out of Pyongyang airport. He’d been teaching a month-long class in international finance and management at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) while serving on the faculty at Yanbian University of Science and Technology in China. The PUST chancellor said in a statement that Kim has been involved in some other activities, like volunteering at an orphanage, while in North Korea. He was in his 50s and had come to teach in the past at the school.
PUST and Yanbian University of Science and Technology are sister schools. It is the only private educational institution in North Korea and has more than 60 foreign faculty members, including from the United States, Canada, Britain and China, according to its website. “The mission of PUST is to pursue excellence in education, with an international outlook, so that its students are diligent in studies, innovative in research and upright in character, bringing illumination to the Korean people and the world,” it says.
Suki Kim, a Korean American author who taught at PUST for six months, wrote a book called “Without You There Is No Us,” describing the faculty members holding private prayer meetings and Bible study sessions.
Kim Dong-chul, a former Virginia resident, is a businessman. In an interview, he told CNN that he’d lived in the Chinese city of Yanji since 2001 and worked in the Rason-Sonbong special economic zone, just over the North Korean border. Kim ran a trade and hotel services company.
He was accused of spying on the regime and sentenced to 10 years of hard labor in April 2016.
Kim, 62, was born in South Korea and became a U.S. citizen in 1987. In the interview with CNN, he said that he was arrested in October 2015 while meeting with a former North Korean soldier. Pyongyang accused Kim of receiving a USB drive and documents containing some North Korea nuclear secrets. At a government-organized news conference, he apologized for trying to steal military secrets in collusion with South Koreans. (South Korea denies this.) He begged for mercy, and called his alleged acts “unpardonable.”
As my colleague Anna Fifield reported, such “ ‘confessions’ have become part of North Korea’s playbook for detainees.” After their release, “several detainees have described being told what to say by their North Korean captors.”