March 7, 2021

North Korea frees three US detainees ahead of Trump summit

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From BBC

North Korea has freed three US citizens from prison, according to a tweet from US President Donald Trump.

It is viewed as a goodwill gesture ahead of a historic summit between Mr Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un.

Mr Trump said he would greet the men when they return with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has been in Pyongyang to arrange the planned talks.

Kim Hak-song, Tony Kim and Kim Dong-chu were able to “walk on the plane without assistance”, the White House said.

They had been jailed for anti-state activities and placed in labour camps.

Mr Trump announced the release of the men in a tweet on Wednesday.

Donald J. Trump

@realDonaldTrump
I am pleased to inform you that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in the air and on his way back from North Korea with the 3 wonderful gentlemen that everyone is looking so forward to meeting. They seem to be in good health. Also, good meeting with Kim Jong Un. Date & Place set.

“They seem to be in good health,” he wrote, adding that a date and location had been set for talks after a “good meeting with Kim Jong Un”.

Mr Trump added that he will personally greet them when they arrive at Andrews Air Force Base at 02:00 EDT (06:00GMT) on Thursday.

In a later statement, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said that Mr Trump “appreciates” the move and “views this as a positive gesture of goodwill”.

Who are the freed Americans?

Kim Hak-song was held on suspicion of “hostile acts” in May 2017. He had previously described himself as a Christian missionary who intended to start an experimental farm at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST)

Tony Kim, also known as Kim Sang-duk, also worked at PUST. He was detained in April 2017 on espionage charges. According to South Korean media, he had been involved in humanitarian work in the North.

Kim Dong-chul, a pastor in his early 60s, was detained in 2015 on spying charges, and was then sentenced to 10 years hard labour.

One of the detainees was jailed in 2015, the other two have been in prison for just over a year. Their convictions have been widely condemned as political and an abuse of human rights.

Ahead of his visit, the second to North Korea in under weeks, the secretary of state said that he hoped North Korea would “do the right thing” and release the detainees.

The fate of the detainees has been a key factor in the build up to the Trump-Kim meeting.

Earlier this month, reports emerged that they had been moved from prison to a hotel in Pyongyang, raising speculation that they could soon be released.

“Stay tuned!” Mr Trump tweeted at the time.

South Korea’s presidential Blue House welcomed the release of the Americans, saying it would have a “positive effect” for upcoming negotiations.

Blue House spokesman Yoon Young-chan also called upon the North to release six South Korean prisoners.

“In order to reinforce reconciliation between South Korea and North Korea and to spread peace on the Korean peninsula, we wish for a swift repatriation of South Korean detainees,” Mr Yoon said in a statement.

In a statement provided to the BBC, the family of Tony Kim said they “want to thank all of those who have worked toward and contributed to his return home”.

“We also want to thank the President for engaging directly with North Korea,” they add.

What are North Korean prisons like?

Some 120,000 people are believed to be imprisoned in North Korea without due process, according to the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK).

People can be jailed by the regime for almost anything, activists say, with crimes ranging from watching a South Korean DVD to trying to defect from the country.

Political prisoners are often sent to separate prisons – usually brutal labour camps, which involve difficult physical work such as mining and logging.

How harsh is prison in North Korea?

American missionary Kenneth Bae, who was sentenced to hard labour, was himself forced to work on a farm six days a week despite being in poor health.

The last American to be freed – Otto Warmbier, who was jailed for stealing a hotel sign – was released last year but was fatally ill, and died shortly after returning home.

The cause of death remains unexplained.

IMAGES:
A U.S. government handout photo released by White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders shows U.S. Central Intelligence (CIA) Director Mike Pompeo meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang, North Korea in a photo that Sanders said was taken over Easter weekend 2018.Image copyrightREUTERS
Image caption Mike Pompeo, the top US diplomat, met with the North Korean leader during his visit
US student Otto Frederick Warmbier speaks tearfully at a press conference in PyongyangImage copyright AFP
Image caption Warmbier died less than a year after his tearful confession in Pyongyang
This file picture released from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on March 25, 2016, shows Kim Dong-chul, a Korean-American as he addresses a news conference in Pyongyang.Image copyright AFP
Image caption This file picture released from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on March 25, 2016, shows Kim Dong-chul
Tony Kim, one of the three Americans being held captive by North Korea, is seen in this handout photo taken in California in 2016, released to by the family of Tony Kim March 11, 2018.Image copyright REUTERS
Image caption Tony Kim, pictured in California in 2016

For more on this story go to: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-44056972

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