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One More American Detained in North Korea: Four Total

by Staff Contributor on May 8, 2017

North Korea has detained yet another American, who worked at a private university in Pyongyang. This raises the total to US citizens being held captive under Kim Jong Un’s regime in the isolated nation.

Kim Hak-song, who was an employee at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), was detained this past Saturday, according to the North Korean state news agency.

Kim was arrested based on the suspicion that he was guilty of committing “hostile acts” against North Korea, as reported by the official Korean Central News Agency. “A relevant institution is now conducting a detailed investigation into his crime,” the agency stated.

However, no other details about him were made available to the public.

The State Department released a statement on Sunday saying that it was “aware of reports that a US citizen was detained in North Korea.”

“The security of US citizens is one of the department’s highest priorities,” divulged a spokeswoman, furthering on to declare that the department is working in conjunction with the Swedish Embassy, which works as a representative of the US in North Korea.

“Due to privacy considerations, we have no further comment,” she added.

This comes two weeks after North Korea detained another US citizen, Kim Sang-dok or Tony Kim, as he was waiting to board a flight at the Pyongyang airport. Kim had been teaching a class in international finance and management at the same university.

PUST is the only private educational institution in North Korea, and it’s operated by a Korean-American professor. PUST is also mainly funded by Christian groups. In 2010, it began offering English classes to the elite North Koreans.

According to its website, PUST has over 60 foreign faculty members and its mission 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.”

Suki Kim, a Korean American author who taught at PUST for a period of six months and wrote a book about his experience in doing so, defined the faculty members as holding private prayer meetings and Bible study sessions.

This comes as a surprise as all religion is technically banned in North Korea, which is a totalitarian state that requires its citizens to worship the three generations of the Kim family who have run the country through a personality cult since the end of World War II rather than pay any devotion to a traditional religion.

Oddly enough, PUST seems to have been accepted by the government as long as its Christian activities were conducted behind closed doors and the faculty did not in any way attempt to proselytize to the North Korean students.

There are currently 2 other US citizens being detained in North Korea.

One of which is former Virginia resident Kim Dong-chul, who had been living in Yanji, which is a Chinese city located close to the border North Korean, and working in a special economic zone in North Korea as the main person in charge of a trade and hotel services company.

Dong-Chul, South Korea-born but US citizen as of 1987, is in his early 60s. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison in April of 2016 as a result of allegations that he had been spying.

The fourth detained US citizen is Otto Warmbier, who is a student of the University of Virginia. Warmbier was detained last year under the accusations that he had been attempting to steal a propaganda sign from a Pyongyang hotel last year on New Year’s Day—when he was in North Korea as a member of a tour group.

Warmbier was found guilty of subversion in March and subsequently sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. Alarmingly, that was the last time he was seen in public and that Swedish diplomats were able to meet with him.

The State Department actively advises Americans against traveling to North Korea under “the serious risk of arrest and long-term detention under North Korea’s system of law enforcement.”

These most recent detentions come at an especially troubling time in terms of the relations between Washington and Pyongyang, which are increasingly tense.

Trump has been taking a questionable approach to the delicate situation. He seems to oscillate between taking it lightly and publically calling Kim Jong Un a “smart cookie” and threatening serious military action against North Korea; meanwhile, the Kim regime has openly been warning that it will not hesitate to undertake a nuclear attack in the face of any sort of threat from the US.

In its most recent statements, on Friday, North Korea accused the US and South Korean intelligence agencies of scheming to assassinate Kim Jong Un through the use of “biochemical substances.”

North Korea’s Foreign Ministry deemed the involved agencies to be the “hotbed of evils in the world” and asserted in a statement that they had “hatched a vicious plot to hurt the supreme leadership.”

The statement continued on to declare that a citizen, identified only as Kim, had been paid $290,000 for himself and his “terrorist accomplices” by the agency due to their involvement in this alleged plot. He was expected to terminate the “supreme leadership” at a public event or military parade, using “bomb terrorism” which involved “biochemical substances including radioactive substance and nano-poisonous substance,” according to the same statement.

This is, unsurprisingly, not very revealing on the part of the North Korean state news agency. Kim is the most frequent last name among the inhabitants of the Korean Peninsula, being used by about a quarter of the Korean population. Thus, identifying the supposed witness as “Kim” effectively gives the world no information about the true identity of this citizen.

Featured Image via Wikimedia

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Staff Contributor
Born and raised New Yorker with foreign parents; aftermaths include: having the tendency to switch languages mid-sentence, an endless stock of funny stories (normally founded on cultural/linguistic misunderstanding), a love of travel and reading, an excessive amount of curiosity (not nosy, just intrigued!), a sincere appreciation for food and coffee, and the ability to react to just about any situation with an infectious bout of laughter.
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