Former Korean American Detained by North Korea Shares his Testimony

ICC Note: Kim Hak Song, one of the three American detainees released last May by North Korea, shared his testimony with his home church for the first time last Sunday in East Hollywood. His was told his crime was prayer, yet prayer sustained him through his time in detention. He sees his release as God’s miracle and began sharing his story.

06/06/2018 North Korea (National Catholic Reporter) – In May 2017, Kim Hak Song was on a train on his way back to Dandong, China, the border city where he’d entered North Korea some weeks before, when members of the North Korean security service approached him.

The government agents accused him of hostile acts toward North Korea, and said they had evidence against him. It would be easiest if he simple confessed.

“I was thinking, I don’t know what I did wrong,” Kim said through a translator June 2 at his home church, the Oriental Mission Church in East Hollywood, after a service there. In his first extended public comments since being released from a North Korean prison May 9, Kim preached and gave testimony about his detention.

When he asked his captors what hostile acts he reportedly committed against North Korea, he was told his crime was prayer.

Prayer, he thought, was normal. The North Korean government, he said, did not.

Like Tony Kim, another of the American detainees released in May, Kim Hak Song had been working at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, a school founded by evangelical Christians and attended by elite North Koreans.

Born in China to Korean parents, Kim Hak Song came to the United States in the mid-1990s, got his citizenship and attended seminary. It was while studying, he said, that he had developed an interest in North Koreans’ plight. After his ordination in 2004, Kim Hak Song returned to China to study agriculture, but eventually, he moved to Pyongyang. He had been working at an experimental farm run by the university until shortly before his arrest.

On June 2, Kim Hak Song said he had gone to China with the blessing and financial support of the Oriental Mission congregation. But he had ventured into North Korea, he said, without discussing it with the church members back home.

When the church found out Kim Hak Song had moved to North Korea, said the Rev. Peter Joo, a pastor at Oriental Mission Church, an Independent Holiness Church, “We prayed for safety because we know what is happening in North Korea.”

Kim Hak Song has denied that he broke North Korean laws against the promoting religion. But his captors showed him an email he had sent to the elders of the Oriental Mission Church asking them to pray for the people of North Korea. They also had records showing he had led early morning prayer for a worship group.

According to the State Department’s most recent International Religious Freedom Report, North Korea is holding up to 120,000 political prisoners, more than 1,300 of whom are charged with religious violations.

Kim Hak Song said he was not tortured during his imprisonment, but he still “felt the pain and struggle,” according to his wife, who says he is still dealing with the trauma.

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