North Korea recently detained a US citizen, officials said today, in the latest case of an American being held in the country. The Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang said it was aware of a Korean-American citizen being detained recently, but could not comment further. The embassy looks after consular affairs for the US in North Korea because the two countries do not have diplomatic relations.
South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency, citing unnamed sources, reported that a Korean-American man was arrested Friday at Pyongyang’s international airport while trying to leave North Korea. It said the man, in his late 50s and identified by his surname, Kim, has been involved in aid and relief programs to North Korea and was a former professor at the Yanbian University of Science and Technology in China.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry and its intelligence agency both said they were unable to confirm the report. At least two other Americans are currently detained in North Korea. Last year, Otto Warmbier, then a 21-year-old University of Virginia student from suburban Cincinnati, was sentenced to 15 years of hard labour in prison after he confessed to trying to steal a propaganda banner. Kim Dong Chul, who was born in South Korea but is also believed to have US citizenship, is serving a sentence of 10 years for espionage.
At least one other foreigner, a Canadian pastor, is also being detained in North Korea. Hyeon Soo Lim, a South Korean- born Canadian citizen in his 60s, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 2015 on charges of trying to use religion to destroy the North Korean system and helping US and South Korean authorities lure and abduct North Korean citizens.