It fell to Fox News to remind Americans that while “some observers continue to fawn over Kim Jong-un’s sister and North Korea’s ‘smile diplomacy,’” the brutal dictatorship is still holding three Americans prisoner.
Fox News Associate Editor Caleb Parke writes:
Concern has only grown for the three Korean-Americans—Kim Hak Song, Kim Dong Chul and Tony Kim—since the death of American college student Otto Warmbier last June after the he spent 17 months locked away in North Korea. And though advocates said they were given some hope during President Trump’s State of the Union address, when the image of a North Korean defector defiantly holding his crutches in the air was met with rapturous applause, there’s also a desire to see continued action and pressure applied against the rogue regime.
“My mom, my brother and I miss our dad so much. We’re so worried about him and his health,” said Sol Kim, whose father, Tony Kim, has been held by North Korea for about nine months.
In a Facebook video, Sol said the separation has caused “hard days for our family.”
“My family and I long to make contact with my dad,” he said. “We want to tell him that he’s soon going to be a grandfather. My brother and sister are [each] expecting their first child.”
The State Department gave assurances that they are making efforts to secure the release of Kim and the others, recalling that former ambassador to Malaysia Joseph Yun, who is the special policy representative for North Korea, met with all three American prisoners when Otto Warmbier was released in June.
“No U.S. representative has seen them since,” Parke writes.
Kim was arrested in April 2017 while working as an accounting teacher at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) and charged a month later with “committing criminal acts of hostility” intended to overthrow the North Korean government.
This is a common charge in North Korea, essentially the all-purpose accusation whenever the regime wants to throw someone in jail. Otto Warmbier was similarly accused by North Korea of attempting to “bring down the foundation of its single-minded unity” by allegedly stealing a propaganda poster from a hotel. The Kim regime also claimed Warmbier was acting as an agent of the CIA.
Tony Kim, also known as Kim Sang-duk, was arrested at the airport while trying to catch an outbound flight from Pyongyang, which is also a favorite tactic of the North Korean government. In addition to working as a teacher, he spent his time in North Korea helping orphanages.
The precise nature of the charges against him remains mysterious to the outside world, aside from North Korea claiming he was involved in a subversive plot hatched long before he began teaching at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology. The university, which was founded in 2010 by evangelical Christians overseas, has stated his arrest was “not connected in any way with the work of PUST.”
The second detainee, Kim Hak-song, also worked for PUST. He was arrested in May 2017 and was also charged with nebulous “hostile acts” intended to overthrow the government. He was the manager of the university’s experimental farm at the time of his arrest.
Korea studies professor Stephan Haggard of the University of California San Diego toldTime magazine that the arrests of Kim Hak-song and Kim Sang-duk looked like “classic asymmetric warfare” by North Korea—or, more to the point, “hostage-taking.”
Time speculated the arrests could have been a response to pressure the United States was applying against Pyongyang at the time, or possibly part of a panic gripping the regime over a bizarre assassination theory in which a brainwashed North Korean lumberjack working in Russia was to murder Kim Jong-un with a biochemical, radioactive, or maybe even nanotech weapon provided by the CIA. North Korea spent several weeks in May demanding that Americans supposedly involved in this plot be handed over for prosecution.
Others wondered if the two arrests of PUST teachers were indeed part of some regime vendetta against the school, despite the denials of university officials, who might well be in the dark as to why the regime turned against them. As Time pointed out, PUST occupies a very unusual position as a Christian school teaching the elite of a militant atheist Communist nation. Supporters of the school see it as a first step toward “engagement” with the North Korean ruling class, which often views “engagement” as subversion against the state.
The third and oldest of the three detainees, 64-year-old Kim Dong-chul, was arrested in October 2015 and later sentenced to ten years of hard labor. The outside world was told nothing of his fate for three months. He has been variously described as a Christian missionary and an executive in a hotel company.
In one of its routine crimes against humanity, the Kim regime extracted a forced confession from Kim Dong-chul in which he admitted he was a paid espionage agent of South Korean intelligence.
“I was tasked with taking photos of military secrets and ‘scandalous’ scenes,” Kim Dong-chul told CNN when the North Koreans finally allowed him to speak to the outside world, under close supervision, in January 2016. At least, the North Koreans said it was Kim Dong-chul. The CNN team seemed wary of definitively identifying the man they spoke with as the American prisoner.
The interviewee claimed he was “injected” with hatred of North Korea by some South Koreans who asked him to “destroy the system and spread propaganda against the government.”
“You could say that my anti-North Korean behavior was also instigated by the United States,” he added, saying that U.S. intelligence agents introduced him to his South Korean handlers. His captors claim he was arrested while receiving a thumb drive filled with military and nuclear secrets. The South Korean intelligence service denied he was an agent of theirs.
Kim said that since his captors had just tested what it claimed was a hydrogen bomb, it was “time to abandon hostile policies and work to help North Korea.
“The U.S. needs to find a way to reconcile with North Korea. I think the main way to do that is with a peace treaty,” he urged, saying that only by signing such a treaty could America “rescue” him.
Imagine being a family member of one of these detainees and watching the American media swoon over dictator Kim Jong-un’s sister because she has a nice smile and made funny faces at Vice President Mike Pence.