A University of Virginia student held in North Korea for 17 months has not been seen until now. Aaron Dickens has more.
U.S. college student Otto Warmbier may have finally been released from a North Korean jail due to his ailing medical condition this week, but three other American citizens remain captives of Pyongyang.
The three men —
Kim Hak-Song, also known as Jin Xue Song; Tony Kim, also known as Kim Sang-Duk; and Kim Dong-Chul — were described as being in good health after a recent visit by the State Department’s top official on North Korea, Joseph Yun, according to the Washington Post.
Yun was in the North Korean capital to obtain Warmbier’s release on medical grounds. He was accompanied on his visit by Swedish diplomats, who represent U.S. interests in North Korea given the absence of diplomatic relations with the communist country.
Warmbier was detained during a school trip to North Korea in 2015 and charged with anti-state activity. Warmbier disappeared after his sentencing to 15 years of hard labor for allegedly stealing a propaganda poster. He returned home to Ohio last week in a coma that may have started as much as a year ago.
Soldiers march across Kim Il Sung Square during a military parade on in Pyongyang, April 15, 2017, They were celebrating the 105th birth anniversary of Kim Il Sung, the country’s late founder and grandfather of current ruler Kim Jong Un. (Photo: Wong Maye-E, AP)
The remaining Americans in the North’s custody have all been charged with variations of anti-state activity, despite the fact that they appear to have journeyed to the diplomatically isolated nation to improve conditions for its 25 million citizens:
• Kim Dong-Chul of Fairfax, Va., was arrested in October 2015 and sentenced to 10 years of hard labor in April 2016 on charges of spying and other offenses.
A month before his trial, he supposedly apologized for trying to steal military secrets for South Koreans. He had been living in Rason, North Korea, in a special economic zone where he ran a trading and hotel services company.
• Tony Kim was detained at the Pyongyang airport April 22 as he was set to depart the country. He subsequently was accused of “hostile acts.”
Kim had spent a month teaching accounting at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology and most recently had been living in North Korea with his wife, still believed to be there. He supposedly had been volunteering at an orphanage. The university is funded largely by evangelical Christians from the United States and China.
• Kim Hak-Song was accused of “hostile acts” on May 6. He had been doing agricultural development work at the research farm of Pyongyang University of Science and Technology and was living in Pyongyang.
Kim was an ethnic Korean born in China. He studied in California and became a U.S. citizen in the 2000s but never forgot his roots. “He was a very diligent, hardworking man determined to help people in North Korea,” his friend David Kim told CNN.
North Korea has detained a range of visitors over the years, typically accusing them of undermining the state. Relations between the Washington and Pyongyang have grown particularly tense as North Korea has pushed ahead with a range of military tests that threaten their neighbor to the south.
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