North Korea takes another American hostage
Another American citizen has been taken hostage by North Korea. Kim Hak Song, who worked for the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, was detained as he tried to leave the country, according to the North Korean news agency KCNA.
Kim is the second American taken in the last few weeks and the fourth overall.
"A relevant institution of the DPRK detained American citizen Kim Hak Song on May 6 under a law of the DPRK on suspension of his hostile acts against it," KCNA said. DPRK is short for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, North Korea's official name.
A third U.S. citizen, Kim Sang Dok, who was associated with the same school, was detained in late April for hostile acts, according to the North's official media.
The U.S. State Department said it is aware of the latest reported detention.
"The security of U.S. citizens is one of the department's highest priorities. When a U.S. citizen is reported to be detained in North Korea, we work with the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang," a State Department official said in an emailed statement, declining to provide further details for privacy reasons.
The reported detention comes as tensions on the Korean peninsula run high, driven by harsh rhetoric from Pyongyang and Washington over the North's pursuit of nuclear weapons in response to what it says is a threat of U.S.-instigated war.
The Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) was founded by evangelical Christians and opened in 2010. Its students are generally children of the country's elite.
The volunteer faculty of PUST, many of whom are evangelical Christians, has a curriculum that includes subjects once considered taboo in North Korea, such as capitalism. The college is an unlikely fit in a country that has been condemned by the United States for cracking down on freedom of religion.
Kim, who manages the school's experimental farm at the college of agriculture and life sciences, was detained on route by train from Pyongyang to China's border town of Dandong, the university's co-founder Chan-Mo Park told Reuters.
Park declined to comment further.
A message by Kim Hak Song dated February 2015 on the website of a Korean-Brazilian church in Sao Paulo said he was a Christian missionary planning to start an experimental farm at PUST and was trying to help the North Korean people learn to become self-sufficient.
Serious crimes, indeed.
The trumped up charges against Kim mirror charges made against other Americans, including 22-year-old American Otto Warmbier, who was on a guided tour of North Korea when he tried to take a sign with political writing from his hotel. He was caught, tried, and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.
Another American detained in April, Tony Kim, also taught at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology and was arrested for trying to "overturn" the regime.
Also being held hostage is a missionary, Kim Dong Chul, a 62-year-old Korean-American. He was tried and convicted of "espionage" in 2016.
The recent spate of hostage-taking by the Kim regime may be an attempt by the North Koreans to acquire bargaining chips in any negotiation with the U.S. Or, as some have speculated, the American prisoners could be used as human shields if the U.S. attacks North Korea's nuclear infrastructure.
Either way, it should go without saying that any American who travels or works in North Korea is well advised to leave the country immediately.