Pyongyang – North Korea has held a new US national on its territory since last week. The fifty-year-old man, of South Korean descent, taught at a university in Pyongyang. He was arrested on Saturday (April 22nd) at the airport of the North Korean capital, while he was preparing to take a plane to China.
His name is Kim Sang-duk, or Tony Kim in English. He had taught accounting courses for a month at a Pyongyang university founded by Protestant evangelical associations, a school frequented by North Korean elite children.
He had also worked for the past 10 years on humanitarian aid programs in the North. The North Korean government has given no further explanation for his arrest.
He is not the first US citizen held by Pyongyang. Kim Sang-duk will join two other Americans in prison: Otto Warmbier , a 22-year-old tourist arrested last year for stealing a propaganda poster in his hotel in Pyongyang and Kim Dong-chul , a pastor of origin South Korean, arrested in 2015 and accused of espionage. Both men were sentenced to long labor sentences.
Last month, PUST officials said the professor was being held, but did not comment further on his case.
“We cannot comment on anything that Mr. Kim may be alleged to have done that is not related to his teaching work on the PUST campus,” the university, which was founded by evangelical Christians in 2010 and has a number of American faculty members, said in a statement.
A diplomatic currency
Over the past decade, at least 14 US citizens traveling or visiting business have been arrested by the regime. And we must not forget Lim Hyeon-soo , a Canadian pastor who has been detained since 2015. They have nothing to do with the appalling conditions in the labor camps where some 100,000 North Koreans are confined, according to the narrative Of former US detainee Kenneth Bae . This pastor spent two years in the north in a camp for foreigners, where, in fact, he was alone. He worked 8 hours a day in the fields. He had the right to pray, to have a Bible, to receive letters from his family. He was never beaten. He still lost 27 pounds.
The United States does not prohibit its nationals from going to North Korea. The US State Department advises against traveling to the North, but has not yet formally prohibited them. These detained Americans serve as a currency of diplomatic exchange, which obliges Washington to send political personalities every time to release them. In the past, former Presidents Bill Clinton (in 2009) and Jimmy Carter (in 2010), or Chief Intelligence Officer James Clapper (in 2014) were seen performing the Liberators in Pyongyang.
Arrest on the basis of tension
US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Halley, said that Kim Jong-un’s regime was trying to use an American as a means of pressure, while tensions on the peninsula were very high. Indeed, this arrest comes when many fear a nuclear test or a missile shot by North Korea and in South Korea, there is fear of a US military response. The famous aircraft carrier, announced by the United States for two weeks, must arrive this week in Korea. In Seoul, some believe that Pyongyang hopes to use this new detainee to force Washington to negotiate, and to limit the sanctions in case of re-trial … which seems unlikely.