This Is Why the 3 Americans Recently Released from North Korea Were Arrested
Three Americans who had been taken prisoner by North Korea were reunited with their families after they were sent back to the U.S. on May 9, 2018. North Korea released the men while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Pyongyang to set up a historic summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Here we’ll look at who the three Americans are and why they were being held in North Korea. See which detainee was actually called North Korea’s “savior” by a colleague (page 3) and which one claimed to be spying on South Korea’s behalf (page 9).
1. Who is Kim Hak Song?
Kim Hak Song is an ethnic Korean who was born in China and has family in both China and Korea. He is believed to have come to the U.S. in the mid-1990s to attend a California university, CNN reported, citing two men who said they studied with him. He likely became an American citizen in the 2000s, then returned to China after living in the U.S. for about 10 years.
Kim then attended a university in Yanbian, China, majoring in agriculture. About two years ago, he went to Pyongyang, according to David Kim, who was a classmate of Kim Hak Song in the U.S. “He was a very diligent, hardworking man determined to help people in North Korea,” the classmate said.
Next: His ties to a North Korean university
2. What Kim Hak Song was doing in North Korea
Kim Hak Song is believed to have studied and possibly worked at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology. He was finishing up a trip to carry out “agricultural development work” at the school’s “experimental farm,” the university said in a statement.
Kim was proud of his Korean roots and committed to improving North Korea’s agricultural economy, according to his classmates. He was set to leave the country in May 2017. However, authorities apprehended him and placed him in one of the country’s secretive prisons.
Next: What he supposedly did wrong
3. Why North Korea detained Kim Hak Song
The Korean Central News Agency reported he was arrested for “hostile acts” toward the state. “The relevant authority is currently carrying out a detailed investigation into the crime of Kim Hak Song,” the state-run news agency said at the time. It didn’t provide further details about this alleged crime.
“North Korea is persecuting their savior, a person who came to help them. This is wrong,” said David Lee, who studied with Kim Hak Song in America. He added that Kim Hak Song would often spend money out of his own pockets for his projects at the Pyongyang university aimed at improving agricultural yields.
Next: Another detainee was educated in America.
4. Who is Tony Kim?
Tony Kim, believed to be in his 50s, also goes by his Korean name, Kim Sang Duk. He graduated with a master’s degree from the University of California, Riverside, in 1990. He spent nearly a decade working as an accountant in the U.S. before returning to Asia, The New York Times reported.
Next: What he had in common with Kim Hak Song
5. What Tony Kim was doing in North Korea
Tony Kim was living in China, where he taught Korean at a university near the Korean border. He also made at least seven trips to North Korea to teach accounting at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology.
Donations from Christian groups fund the university, which opened its doors in 2010. It is the only privately-funded college in the country. It’s unclear whether Tony Kim had any connection with Kim Hak Song, who was also at the school.
Next: They let his companion go.
6. Why North Korea detained Tony Kim
North Korean authorities abducted Tony Kim at the airport in Pyongyang when trying to leave the country in April 2017. Officials allowed his wife, who was with him at the time, to leave the country.
Like with Kim Hak Song, the North Korean government charged Tony Kim with “hostile acts” toward the government. Korean state media reports did not explain the allegations any further, except to say they were unrelated to his work at the university. Authorities never revealed whether they officially arrested and sentenced him.
Next: The third detainee
7. Who is Kim Dong Chul?
The South Korean-born businessman, 65, is a naturalized U.S. citizen who has lived in Fairfax, Virginia. He said he resided there before moving to Yanji, a Chinese town near the North Korean border, in 2001. CNN obtained a photo of his 2014 U.S. passport, issued the year before North Korean authorities apprehended him.
Next: Why he drove to North Korea every day
8. What Kim Dong Chul was doing in North Korea
Kim was living with his wife and two daughters in China while he ran a North Korea-based company involved in international trade and hotel services. The company is located in Rason, a special economic zone in North Korea near the China border, where foreign-owned businesses operate.
These businesses help North Korea’s cash-strapped regime make money for its military program. Kim Dong Chul would enter North Korea on a daily basis for his work.
Next: Was his confession under duress?
9. Why North Korea detained Kim Dong Chul
Officials arrested Kim Dong Chul in North Korea in October 2015. Months later, North Korean authorities allowed him to be interviewed by CNN, when he said the following had been taken from him: a USB drive, camera, and documents containing details of North Korea’s nuclear program.
He said he’d been spying on behalf of South Korea to help undermine Kim Jong Un’s regime. CNN could not determine whether he was making his statements under duress. South Korea called the claims groundless. The oppressive regime detained him for the longest of the three men, with Kim Dong Chul having spent at least 900 days in custody.
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