Reports from South Korea suggest that an American citizen has been arrested in North Korea. In a report which cited anonymous sources, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency has claimed that a Korean-American man was arrested on Friday at Pyongyang’s international airport while trying to leave North Korea. This news appears to have been confirmed by the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang, which looks after consular affairs on behalf of the US since the country does not have any diplomatic relationship with North Korea. Though refraining from commenting further, the Swedish embassy acknowledged awareness of the detention of a Korean-American citizen. However, both South Korea’s unification ministry and intelligence agency have been unable to confirm this report.
It is believed that this man could be the third US citizen under arrest in North Korea. Then 21 years old, University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier was arrested and tried for trying to steal a propaganda flyer from the country during a tour. Otto himself gave an emotional confession in which he said he had “made the worst mistake of [his] life” and pleaded for leniency. However, prisoners previously incarcerated in North Korea have been known to recant their statements afterwards. In Otto’s case, his plea fell on deaf ears and he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labour in prison, following the release of a blurry tape purported to show him removing the flyer from a wall. It remains unclear whether Otto will serve the full length of his sentence.
Kim Dong-chul, though born in South Korea is also believed to have US citizenship, and is currently serving a 10-year sentence for espionage. Two other Canadians are also believed to be incaracerated in North Korea. South Korean-born Canadian citizen Hyeon Soo-lim and another Canadian pastor have also been arrested for charges related to trying to spread religion in the despotic regime where public religion is discouraged. Religious charges are a frequent reason for arresting foreigners, as seen in the case of American Jeffrey Howle who was reportedly detained in May 2014 for purposely leaving a bible in a North Korean nightclub. Howle was released in October of the same year and claimed the experience was “worth it” as he felt “protected” by God.
The latest foreign citizen to be detained by Kim Jong-un’s government is believed to be a man in his late fifties whose surname is Kim. He is believed to be a Korean American professor formerly employed by the Yanbian University of Science and Technology in China. It has been reported that he was taking part in aid and relief programs to North Korea and had spent time in the country fleshing out his proposals. Unnamed sources say he was leaving the country, following these talks, when he was detained. How long he will be kept in the country remains to be seen, as previous foreign detainees have been subjected to varied lengths of incarceration.
This reported arrest of a US citizen comes at a time when US relations with North Korea could be much better. Following growing tensions between both countries, the US sent the USS Carl Vinson to the Sea of Japan, ostensibly as a reaction to growing concerns over North Korean missile testing. Though the US navy has said that the ships were ships were actually heading towards Australia to conduct drills with the Australian navy, the North Korean foreign ministry issued this strong statement in response to the developments.
“Now that we possess mighty nuclear power to protect ourselves from US nuclear threat, we will respond without the slightest hesitation to full-out war with full-out war and to nuclear war with our style of nuclear strike, and we will emerge victor in the final battle with the United States.”
Professor of international studies at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul BJ Kim has suggested that this arrest could be used tactically by North Korea in addressing escalating tensions with the US. How this will play out remains to be seen as more details slowly emerge from this ongoing situation.
H/T: Al Jazeera
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