3 Americans Remain Imprisoned In North KoreaBy RUSSELL GOLDMANJUNE 13, 2017
Tony Kim, also known as Kim Sang-duk, in a photograph from social media.
When Americans are detained in North Korea, they can expect harsh conditions, with tiny prison cells, little food or water and even less daylight. And their story line is preordained: A forced confession, a show trial, a sentence to years of hard labor with little chance of appeal.
The release of Otto F. Warmbier on Tuesday leaves three American citizens known to now be held in North Korea. Two were arrested in the last two months; Tony Kim, also known as Kim Sang-duk, on April 23, and Kim Hak-song, also known as Jin Xue Song, on May 6; the North Korean authorities accused each man of "hostile acts." Little is known about the case of the third American, Kim Dong-chul, including why he was detained in 2015.
The experiences of other Americans who have been detained and eventually released by North Korea, often with the help of prominent American politicians, crack open the door on the secretive regime's network of prison camps and the deprivation found there.
"It was a 5-by-6-foot cell, and there were a couple of slats on the doors," Laura Ling, a journalist detained in 2009, revealed in a magazine interview after her release. "There were no bars, so you couldn't see out, and if they closed those slats, it just went completely dark. There was no way to communicate with the outside world."
Another captive, Kenneth Bae, a missionary, said in his memoir "Not Forgotten," published after his release in 2016, that he was interrogated 15 hours a day "from 8 in the morning until 10 or 11 o'clock at night, every day for four weeks - it was very intense."
The Americans now detained in North Korea are being held at a time of heightened tensions. Their cases may vary, but their circumstances as pawns in a complex geopolitical game are strikingly similar.
Mr. Kim had spent a month teaching accounting at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology and was trying to board a plane to leave the country when he was arrested, according to the chancellor of the university, Chan-Mo Park.
"The cause of his arrest is not known, but some officials at P.U.S.T. told me his arrest was not related to his work at P.U.S.T.," Mr. Park told Reuters. "He had been involved with some other activities outside P.U.S.T., such as helping an orphanage."
Kim Dong-chul in court last year. He was sentenced to 10 years of hard labor. Credit Kim Kwang Hyon/Associated Press
Mr. Kim, who is in his 50s, had previously taught at Yanbian University of Science and Technology, an affiliated institute in the Chinese province of Jilin, near the North Korean border. He had most recently been living in North Korea with his wife, who is believed to still be in the country.
Mr. Kim studied accounting at the University of California, Riverside and at Aurora University, and worked as an accountant in the United States for more than a decade, according to his Facebook page.
Mr. Kim also worked at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, and it was not clear whether his arrest was connected with that of Tony Kim two weeks earlier.
The university said in a statement that he had been doing agricultural development work at its research farm and was arrested after a trip there.
According to CNN, Mr. Kim, an ethnic Korean, was born in Jilin, China, near the North Korean border, and emigrated to the United States in the 1990s. After becoming an American citizen, the network said, Mr. Kim returned to China and studied agriculture at Yanbian before moving to Pyongyang, the capital.
Kim Dong-chul, a businessman, was sentenced to 10 years of hard labor in April 2016 on charges of spying and other offenses.
A month before his trial, Mr. Kim appeared at a government-arranged news conference in Pyongyang and apologized for trying to steal military secrets in collusion with South Koreans. The South Korean spy agency has denied any involvement.
Mr. Kim's predicament was not known until January 2016, when the North Korean government let CNN interview him in Pyongyang. At that time, Mr. Kim identified himself as a 62-year-old naturalized American citizen who lived in Fairfax, Va. He said he once ran a trading and hotel services company in Rason, a special economic zone near North Korea's borders with China and Russia.
He said he was arrested in October 2015 while meeting with a former North Korean soldier to receive classified data.