Possible Talk Between North Korea and the U.S. Raises Hope for 3 Detained Americans

ICC Note: A possible talk between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un gives hope for the release of three American detainees currently held by North Korea. All three are believed to be Christians, and their faith may be a factor in their detention.

03/13/2018 North Korea (Washington Post) – Hopes for the release of three American citizens imprisoned in North Korea got a big boost by the news of a possible summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Freeing the prisoners would be relatively low-hanging fruit and a sign of goodwill by Kim. It would also mark something of a personal success for Trump, who has highlighted the issue since last June, when University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier died days after North Korea turned him over to American authorities.

Trump banned Americans from traveling to the North in response and featured Warmbier’s father prominently in his State of the Union speech in January.

A look at who the current American prisoners are and what a prison sentence in North Korea can entail:

THE PRISONERS

All three Americans now doing time in the North are men, and all three are ethnic Koreans.

Two of them — Tony Kim and Kim Hak Song — were instructors at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology prior to their arrest and conviction. They are accused of anti-state activities and trying to overthrow the government. The university, which has not been linked to their arrests, is the only privately funded college in the North, founded in 2010 on donations from Christian groups.

Tony Kim, who taught accounting, has been in custody since April last year and is serving a 15-year sentence. Kim Hak Song, an agriculture specialist and evangelical minister who resided with his wife in China, was taken into custody about a month later. He remains in custody, but it’s not clear whether he has been sentenced or what his current status is.

The third and longest-serving prisoner, Kim Dong Chul, is a former Virginia resident who reportedly claims to have been the president of a trade and hotel services company in Rason, a special economic zone on the North Korean border with Russia. He was sentenced in April 2016 to 10 years in prison with hard labor after being convicted of espionage.

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